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The Canterbury Tales 














How fain we conjure back his smile! How fain 
As, bow'd with musings long on elvish lore, 
He clutched his satchel at the class-room door 
And shot the quick "Good-morning, gentlemen," 
From under the bronze curls, and entered. Then 
For us that hour of quaint illusion wore 
Such spell as when, beside the Breton shore, 
The wizard clerk astounded Dorigen. 
For we beheld the nine and twenty ride 
Through those dim aisles their deathless pilgrimage, 
Lady and monk and rascal laugh and chide, 
Living and loving on the enchanted page, 
Whilst, half apart, there murmured side by side 
The master-poet and the scholar-mage. 


THE barrier of obsolete speech is the occasion and the apology for 
this rendering of the Canterbury Tales in English easily intelli- 
gible to-day. Whether this barrier be real, or but generally 
assumed, matters little, for the assumption itself is obstructive and tends 
equally to the resultant fact, that in spite of the immensely widened 
interest in Chaucer and the diffused knowledge of his works due to labours 
of profound scholarship in the last fifty years a very large proportion of 
the educated public still receives its impressions of the poet at second hand, 
from literary hearsay, or the epitomising essays of critics. 

To present, therefore, a representative portion of Chaucer's unfinished 
masterpiece in such form as shall best preserve for a modern reader the 
substance and style of the original, is the chief aim of this book. When 
the publishers asked me to carry out this object, the nature of the appro- 
priate form presented itself for solution. As modernisation, the under- 
taking is not new. At various epochs, and with varying scope of design, 
poets such as Dryden, Pope, Leigh Hunt, Elizabeth Barrett, Wordsworth, 
have contrived metrical versions of the Canterbury Tales in the literary 
forms of their own day. Lesser poets and writers of the past two centuries 
have executed the like. Their versions possess in common the aim of 
substituting modern English verse for Chaucer's, often as an alleged latter- 
day improvement. All, as Professor Lounsbury has shown, "had a direct 
tendency at the time to divert men from the study of the original." The 
present rendering, therefore, which is rather a modified form than a modern- 
isation of Chaucer's tales, is believed to differ from all the aforesaid ver- 



sions in method and, largely, in motive. For the form adopted is prose ; it 
preserves, as closely as possible, the very words of Chaucer and his charac- 
teristic constructions ; it aims by faithful accuracy to present a text which 
shall be efficient in promoting the study of the original. In working 
principle, it has taken advice from the poet himself in his Prologue: 

"For this ye knowen al-so wel as I, 
Who-so shal telle a tale after a man, 
He moot reherce, as ny as ever he can, 
Everich a word, if it be in his charge, 
Al speke he never so rudeliche and large ; 
Or elles he moot telle his tale untrewe, 
Or feyne thing, or finde wordes newe." 

Briefly, then, the method followed has been to present, so far as possi- 
ble, Chaucer's ipsissima verba; to err rather in the direction of literal 
fidelity than literary license. No archaisms, however, have been retained 
which are not fairly intelligible. The necessary changes which have been 
made are: first, omissions on the score of propriety, of intelligibility (as 
when a long paraphrase would have been required for a trivial matter), and 
(very seldom) of redundancy; secondly, rare and slight rearrangements 
for the sake of clearness; thirdly, translation and paraphrase required by 
clearness and the necessities of prose-style. Proper names have been altered 
to their classical or modern forms only in the case of historical characters 
or places fairly familiar to-day. The text of Professor Skeat has been 
followed almost always and his notes very largely. 

The number of tales selected is the result of the particular scope of this 
volume, which, as I have said, seeks only to present a representative part of 
the Canterbury Tales. The choice of the tales has been further limited 
by the expediency of selecting from among those which are neither too 
broad (as the Summoner's), nor too prolix (as the Parson's). To the ten 
tales chosen have been added those prologues, epilogues, and links which 
directly pertain to them in the Chaucerian design. The Squire's Tale, 
though unfinished, has been included for the sake not only of its own 



romantic charm, but of that familiar citation of its author by which 
Milton has immortalised its very incompleteness, and taught us of the after- 
time still to 

"Call up him that left half-told 
The story of Cambuscan bold." 

There remains for me to express what I should have preferred to 
signify, in other wise, on the title-page my grateful acknowledgment of 
the vital assistance given to this book by Dr. John S. P. Tatlock of the 
University of Michigan. He has read all the text in manuscript, or proof, 
and in very few instances have I dissented from his emendations. The 
insight and supervision of his thorough scholarship have been of the utmost 
benefit to this undertaking. 


CORNISH, New Hampshire, 
August, 1904. 



The Prologue . . . . . . . . . .1 

The Knight's Tale 20 

Words of the Host ......... 67 

The Prologue of the Prioress' Tale 68 

The Prioress 1 Tale 69 

The Prologue of the Nun's Priest's Tale 74 

The Nun's Priest's Tale 76 

Epilogue to the Nun's Priest's Tale ...... 91 

The Physician's Tale 92 

Words of the Host ......... 99 

The Prologue of the Pardoner's Tale 101 

The Pardoner's Tale . . . . . . . . .104 

The Wife of Bath's Prologue 116 

The Tale of the Wife of Bath 134 

The Clerk's Prologue 144 

; The Clerk's Tale 146 



The Squire's Tale 173 

The Words of the Franklin 188 

The Franklin's Prologue . 189 

The Franklin's Tale 189 

The Canon's Yeoman's Prologue . . . . . . .210 

The Canon's Yeoman's Tale . . . , . . .214 
Notes . . . 231 



Forth we rode when day began to spring .... Frontispiece 


Palamon desireth to slay his foe Arcite . . , .36 

Therewith he brought us out of Town . .... 68 
The three Rogues search in the woods for Death . . .108 
So much of Dalliance and fair Speech . . . . .138 

There came a Knight upon a Steed of Brass . . . .174 

The Prologue 

Here beginneth the book of the Tales of Canterbury. 

WHEN April with his sweet showers hath pierced to the 
root the drought of March and bathed every vine in 
liquid the virtue of which maketh the flowers to start, 


when eke Zephirus with his sweet breath hath quickened the 
tender shoots in every heath and holt, and the young sun hath sped 
his half course in the Ram, and the little birds make their melodies 
and all the night sleep with open eye, so nature pricketh them 
in their hearts, then folk long to go on pilgrimages and palmers 
to seek strange shores to the far shrines of saints known in 
sundry lands; and especially from every shire's end of England 
they journey to Canterbury to visit the holy blessed Martyr, that 
hath helped them when they were sick. 

It befell on a day in that season, as I rested at the Tabard in 
Southwark, ready to wend on my pilgrimage to Canterbury, with 
heart full devout, that at night there was come into that hostel a 
company of sundry folk, full nine and twenty, by chance fallen 
in fellowship, and all were pilgrims that would ride toward 
Canterbury. The chambers and stables were spacious, and fairly 
were we entertained ; and in brief, when the sun was at rest, I had 
so spoken with every one of them that anon I was of their 
fellowship, and made agreement to rise early and take our way 
whither I told you. 

Natheless, while I have time and space, ere I pass farther 
in this tale, methinketh it reasonable to tell you all the character 



of each of them, as it seemed to me, what folk they were, and of 
what estate, and eke in what accoutrement ; and first, then, I will 
begin with a knight. 

A Knight a worthy man there was, that since the time 
when first he rode out, loved chivalry, truth and honour, courtesy 
and liberality. Full valiant he was in battle for his lord, and 
eke had ridden, no man farther, in Christendom and heathenesse ; 
and ever was honoured for his valour. He was at Alexandria 
when it was won. Full many a time in Prussia he had sat first 
at board above all the nations. In Lithuania he had warred and 
in Russia, no Christian of his degree so oft. In Granada eke 
he had been at the siege of Algezir and ridden into Belmarye. 
He was at Satalye and Lyeys when they were won; and in the 
Great Sea he had been with many a noble army. He had been 
at fifteen mortal battles, and fought for our faith thrice in the 
lists at Tramissene, and aye slain his foe. This same worthy 
Knight eke had fought once for the lord of Palatye against 
another heathen host in Turkey. And evermore he had a sov- 
ereign repute. And though he was valorous, he was wise, and as 
meek of his bearing as a maid. He never yet in all his life spake 
discourtesy to any manner of man. He was a very perfect gentle 
knight. But to tell you of his accoutrement, his horses were good, 
but he was not gaily clad. He wore a tunic of fustian, all rust- 
stained by his coat of mail; for he was lately come from his 
travel, and went to make his pilgrimage. 

With him was his son, a young Squire, a lusty novice in arms 
and a lover, with locks curled as they had been laid in press. He 
was, as I ween, some twenty years of age. In stature he was 
of moderate height, and wondrous nimble and great of strength. 
He had sometime been in the wars in Flanders, Artois and 



Picardy, and borne him well, for so little time, in hope to stand in 
his lady's grace. He was embroidered like a mead all full of fresh 
flowers red and white ; all day long he was singing or piping on 
the flute; he was as fresh as the month of May. His gown 
was short, with sleeves wide and long. Well could he sit his 
horse and ride fairly. He could make songs and well endite 
a thing, joust and dance eke, and draw well and write. So hot 
he loved that by night he slept no more than the nightingale. He 
was courteous, lowly and diligent to serve, and carved before his 
father at table. 

A Yeoman had this knight, and no other servants at that time, 
for he list to ride so. This yeoman was clad in a coat and 
hood of green, and bore a sheaf of peacock-arrows bright and 
sharp full thriftily under his belt. He could dress his hunting- 
tackle like a true yeoman; his arrow-feathers were not draggled 
out of line. In his hand he bare a mighty bow ; and well he knew 
all the practice of wood-craft. He had a head round like a nut, 
and a brown visage. On his arm he bare a gay bracer, and by 
his side a buckler and sword, and on the other side a gay dagger, 
well harnessed and sharp as a spear-point. On his breast was a 
medal of Saint Christopher, of bright silver. He bare a horn, with 
baldric of green. I deem in good sooth he was a forester. 

There was eke a nun, a Prioress, that was of her smiling full 
simple and quiet. Her greatest oath was but by St. Loy. And 
she was called Madame Eglantine. Full well she sung divine 
service, full seemly intoned in her nose. And French she spake 
fair and prettily, after the school of Stratford-atte-Bow, for to 
her French of Paris was unknown. At meat she was well taught ; 
she let no morsel fall from her lips, nor wet her fingers deep in 
her sauce. She could carry well a morsel, and take good heed 



that no drop fell on her breast. Full much she took pleasure in 
good-breeding. She wiped her upper lip so clean that, when she 
had drunk her draught, no bit of grease could be seen in her 
cup ; and she reached full seemly after her meat, and in truth she 
was very diverting and full pleasant and amiable of bearing, and 
took pains to imitate the manners of court, and be stately of 
demeanour, and to be held worthy of highest respect. But to speak 
of her conscience, she was so charitable and pitiful, she would 
weep if she saw a mouse caught in a trap, if it were dead or 
bleeding. Small hounds she had, that she fed with roast flesh, or 
milk and cake-bread ; but sore she wept if one of them died, or men 
smote it sharply with a rod; and all was conscience and tender 
heart. Full seemly her wimple was fluted ; her nose was prettily 
shaped, her eyes grey as glass, her mouth small and thereto full 
soft and red. But verily her forehead was fair; I trow it was 
almost a span high, for certainly she was not undergrown. Her 
cloak was full graceful, as I was ware. About her arm she wore, 
of small coral, a set of beads with knobs of green, and thereon 
hung a brooch of bright gold, on which was writ first a crowned 
A and afterward Amor vincit omnia. 

Another nun she had with her, who was her chaplain, and 
three Priests. 

A Monk there was, passing worthy, a bailiff to his house, who 
loved hunting; a manly man, well fit to be abbot. He had many 
a dainty horse in stable, and when he rode, men might hear his 
bridle jingling in a whistling wind as clear and loud as the 
chapel-bell, where this lord was prior. Because the rule of Saint 
Maur or of Saint Benedict was old and somewhat strait, this same 
monk let old tilings pass, and held his course after the new world. 
He gave not a plucked hen for that text which saith hunters 



be not holy, nor that a monk cloisterless is likened to a fish water- 
less, that is to say a monk out of his convent; that text he held 
not worth an oyster; and I said to him his opinion was good. "> ^ 
Why should he study and make himself mad poring alway upon 
a book in a cloister, or drudge and labour with his hands as 
Austin biddeth? How shall the world be served? Let Austin 
have his drudgery kept for himself. Therefore, in good sooth, 
he was a hard spurrer; he had greyhounds, as swift as fowl in 
flight ; and all his heart was set in spurring and hunting the hare ; 
for at no cost would he refrain. I saw his sleeves edged at the 
wrist with grey fur, and that the finest in the land ; and to fasten 
his hood at the throat he had a pin curiously wrought of gold, 
with a love-knot at the larger end. His head was bald and shone 
as a glass, and eke his face as if he had been anointed. He was 
in good trim, a full fat lord. His eyes glittered and rolled in his 
head, and glowed as the furnace beneath a cauldron. His boots 
were supple, his horses in fine case. Certainly he was a fair 
prelate; he was not pale as a purgatorial ghost; a fat swan he 
loved best of any flesh. His palfrey was as brown as a berry. 

A Friar there was, jocund and wanton, a limiter, a self- 
important man. In all the four orders there is none that knoweth 
so much of dalliance and fair speech. He had made full many 
a marriage of young women at his own cost. He was a noble 
pillar unto his order, full well beloved and familiar with frank- 
lins everywhere in his country, and also with worthy women of 
the town. For he had power of confession, as himself said, more 
than a parson, for he was licentiate of his order. Full sweetly he 
heard confession, and pleasant was his absolution; he was a com- 
plaisant man to grant penance, whereso he wist he should get a 
good meal. For to give unto a poor order is a sign that a man is 



well shriven, for if a man gave, he avowed he wist that he was 
repentant; for many a man is so hard of heart that he may not 
weep, although he be sore in pain; therefore instead of prayers 
and weeping, men may give silver to the poor friars. His tippet 
was aye stuffed full of knives and pins, to give unto fair dames ; 
and he had in sooth a merry voice; he could sing well and play 
on the harp. At singing ballads he gained the palm utterly. 
His neck was s white as the flower-de-luce^ and eke he was as 
strong as a champion. He knew the taverns in every town and the . 
innkeepers and tapsters better than the lepers and beggars. For 
it accorded not with the dignity of such a worthy man to have 
acquaintance with sick lepers. It is not seemly, it doth not profit, 
to deal with such poor rubbish, but rather with rich folk and 
victuallers. And whereso profit might arise, he was courteous 
and lowly in serving. Nowhere was there a man so efficacious; 
he was the best beggar of his order ; for though a widow had never 
a shoe, yet was his ff ln principle" so pleasant, that ere he went 
he would have a farthing. The proceeds of his begging were 
better far than his rents. And he could romp like a whelp. On 
love-days he could effect much ; for there he was not like a clois- 
tral monk, or a poor scholar with threadbare cloak, but he was 
like a doctor or pope. His semicope was of double worsted and 
fresh from the press stood out round like a bell. For his wanton- 
ness somewhat lie lisped, to make his English sweet on his tongue] 
and in his harping, when he had done singing, v his eyes twinkled 
in his head right as the stars in the frosty night.) This worthy 
limiter was called Huberd. 

A Merchant with a forked beard there was, in motley, and 
he sat high on horse, a Flandrish beaver-hat on his head, his boots 
clasped neat and fair. His opinions he spake full grandly, 



alway tending to the increase of his own winnings. He would 
that the sea were guarded at any cost betwixt Middleburgh and 
Orwell. He knew well how to profit by the exchange on French 
crowns. This worthy man well employed his wit; no man wist 
that he was in debt, so stately was he of behaviour in his bargains 
and borrowings. Truly he was a worthy man, but to say sooth, 
I wot not how men call him. 

There was also a Clerk of Oxford, that had long gone unto 
lectures on logic. His horse was as lean as a rake, and he himself 
was not right fat, I warrant, but looked hollow and eke sober. 
His outer cape was full threadbare, for he had got him as yet 
no benefice, nor was so worldly as to have secular employment. 
For he had liefer have at his bed-side twenty books of Aristotle's 
philosophy, clad in black or red, than rich robes, or a fiddle, or 
gay psaltery. Albeit he was a philosopher, yet he had but little 
gold in his chest, but all that he might gain from his friends he 
spent on books and learning, and busily did pray for the souls 
of them that gave him wherewith to attend the schools. Of 
study he took most heed and care. Not one word he spake more 
than was needful, and that was said short and quick and full 
of high import, form and reverence. His discourse ever tended 
to moral virtue, and gladly he would learn and gladly would 

There was also a Sergeant-at-law, ware and wise, that had 
often been at Paul's church-porch. Full rich of excellence he 
was, discreet and of great importance; or such he seemed, his 
words were so sage. He was full oft justice in assize by patent 
and perpetual commission. For his knowledge and his high 
renown he had many a fee and robe. There was nowhere so 
great a buyer of land; all proved fee simple to him; his titles 



might not be made null. Nowhere was so busy a man as he, and 
yet he seemed busier than he was. He had in set terms all the 
cases and judgments that had befallen since the time of King 
William. He could eke compose and make a deed; no wight 
could pick a flaw in his forms, and he knew every statute in full 
by heart. He rode simply in a motley coat, girt with a silk girdle 
with narrow bosses. Of his garb I tell no longer tale. 

With him there was a Franklin; white was his beard as the 
daisy, and ruddy he was of complexion. He loved well of a 
morning a sop in wine. To live in delight was ever his wont, for 
he was the own son of Epicurus, who held the opinion that the 
highest good verily standeth in pleasure. He was a householder, 
and that a great, a very Saint Julian in his own country. His 
bread and ale were alway of one excellence; was nowhere a 
man with a better store of wine. His house w r as never without 
great pasties of fish and flesh, and that so plentiful that in his 
house it snowed meat and drink and all dainties men could devise. 
According to the sundry seasons of the year, so he changed his 
fare. Many a fat partridge had he in mew, and in his pond many 
a bream and luce. Woe to his cook, if his sauce were not poignant 
and sharp and all his gear ready. All the long day his solid 
board stood ready covered in his hall. At sessions he was lord 
and master, and full oft he was knight of the shire in Parliament. 
At hi^fcdle hung a dagger and a silken pouch, white as morn- 
mgjj^^K. He had been an auditor and a sheriff; nowhere was 
therePsuch a worthy country gentleman. 

^ An Haberdasher, a Carpenter, a Weaver, a Dyer and a Draper 

were also with us, clothed all in the like livery of a great and 
important guild. Full fresh and new their gear was trimmed, 
their girdles and their pouches. Their knives were not capped 


with brass, but with silver, wrought full clean and well. Eaeh 
of them well seemed a fair burgess, to sit on a dais in a guild-hall. 
Each for wisdom was fit to be head of his fraternity. For they 
had enough of goods and income, and eke their wives would 
soon agree; and else they were certainly in fault. It is full fair 
to be called "madame" and walk to ^igils before the rest, and 
have a mantle borne regally. 

A Cook they had with them for the journey, to boil chickens, 
with the marrow-bones, and with spicy powders and sweet 
cyperus. Well knew he a draught of London ale. He could 
roast, seethe, broil, fry, make broths and well bake a pasty. 
Capon stew he made, no man better. But it was great pity, 
methought, that on hisjahin he had a sore. 

A Shipman there was that dwelt far in the west; for aught 
I wot, he was of Dartmouth. He rode upon a nag as well as he 
knew how, in a gown of serge as far as the knee. On a lace 
about his neck he had a dagger, hanging down under his arm. 
The hot summer had made his hue all brown. He was certainly 
a good fellow ; full many a draught of wine he had privily drawn 
on voyage from Bordeaux, while the merchant slept. For nice 
conscience he cared not a straw. If he fought and had the upper 
hand of his enemies, he sent them home to every country by 
water. But in skill to be wary against danger, to reckon well 
his tides, his currents, his harbour, his pilotage and his 
was none such from Hull to Carthage. He was har 
dent in a venture. By many a tempest his beard hacr oeen 
shaken. He knew well all the havens from Gothland to the 
Cape of Finisterre, and every creek in Spain and Brittany. His 
barge was called the Maudelayne. 

A Doctor of Physic was with us; in all this world there was 



none like him for surgery and physic, for he was well grounded 
in astrology. He watched well times and seasons for his patient 
by his natural magic; well could he choose a fortunate ascendent 
for his images. He knew the cause of every ailment, were it 
of hot humour or cold, moist or dry, and where it was engendered, 
and of what humour. He was verily a perfect practitioner. The 
cause known, and the root of his ill, straightway he gave the 
sick man his remedy. He had his apothecaries full ready to send 
him his drugs and sirups, for each of them made the other to 
gain; their friendship was not lately begun. He knew well old 
Esculapius and eke old Hippocrates, Deiscorides, Rufus, Haly, 
Galen, Razis, Avicenna, Serapion, Averroes, Damascien, Con- 
stantine, Bernard, Gilbertine and Gatesden. In his diet he used 
measure, with no superfluity therein, but great nourishment and 
ease of digestion. His meditation was but little on the Bible. He 
was clad all in sanguine and blue, lined with taffeta and sarcenet ; 
and yet he was but moderate in expenditure ; he kept what he won 
in time of pestilence; for gold in physic is a cordial; wherefore 
he loved gold especially. 

A good Wife there was from near Bath, but she was somewhat 
deaf and that was pity. She had such skill in making cloth 
that she surpassed them of Ypres and Ghent. In all the parish 
was no wife that should walk before her to the offering; but if 
any did, sooth, she was so wroth that she was clean out of charity. 
Her kerchiefs were wove full fine ; I durst swear they weighed ten 
pound that were on her head of a Sunday ; her hose were of fine 
scarlet, tied full close, and her shoes full new and supple. Her 
face was bold, fair and red of hue. All her life she was a worthy 
woman ; she had had five husbands at church-door, to say naught 
of other company in youth, but thereof needeth not now to speak. 



Thrice she had been at Jerusalem; she had passed many a far 
stream. She had been at Rome and Bologna, at Saint James 
in Galicia, and at Cologne. She knew much of wandering by 
the way. To speak the sooth, she was gap-toothed. She sat 
easily upon an ambler, well wimpled, and on her head an hat as 
broad as a buckler or a target, a foot-mantle about her large hips 
and on her feet a pair of sharp spurs. Well could she laugh and 
banter in company. I dare adventure she knew of remedies of 
love, for she knew the old dance in that art. 

A good man of religion there was, a poor Parson of a town, 
but rich in holy thought and labour. He was also a learned man, 
a clerk, that would preach truly Christ's gospel, and devoutly 
instruct his parishioners. Benign he was, wondrous diligent and 
full patient in adversity; and such he was proved oftentimes. 
Full hateful it were to him to excommunicate for his tithes, and 
rather in truth would he give unto his poor parishioners of the 
offerings at church, yea, and of his own substance. In scanty 
goods he could find sufficiency. His parish was wide and the 
houses far apart, but rain or thunder stayed him not, in sickness 
or misfortune, to visit the farthest in his parish, great and small, 
on foot and in his hand a staff. This noble ensample he gave 
to his sheep, that he wrought first and afterward taught. These 
words he took from the Gospel, and thereto he added eke this 
figure, that if gold rust what shall iron do? For if a priest be 
foul, in whom we confide, no wonder a layman rusteth; and let 
a priest take heed how shameful is a defiled shepherd and a clean 
sheep. A priest ought well to show by the good ensample of his 
cleanness how hjs sheep should live. He let not his benefice out 
for gold, nor left his sheep cumbered in the mire, nor ran unto 
Saint Paul's in London, to seek a chantry for rich men's souls, 



or to be retained in an abbey, but dwelt at home and kept well 
his fold, so that the wolf made it not miscarry ; he was a shepherd 
and no hireling. Yet though he was virtuous and holy he was 
not pitiless to a sinful man, nor haughty and aloof of his speech, 
but in his teaching wise and benign. To draw folk to heaven by 
fair living and good ensample was his busy endeavour; unless it 
were some obdurate person. Him, whatsoever he were, of high 
or low degree, he would chide sharply for his sin. I trow there 
was nowhere a better priest. He claimed no pomp and venera- 
tion, nor made himself a nice conscience, but taught the lore of 
Christ and his twelve apostles, and first he followed it himself. 

There was with him a Plowman, his brother, that had drawn 
full many a cart-load of dung. He was a true toiler, and a good, 
living in peace and perfect charity. He loved God best with his 
whole heart at all times, in joy or heaviness, and then his neigh- 
bour, even as himself. For Christ's sake he would thresh and 
eke delve and ditch for every poor wight without hire, if it lay in 
his power. He paid his tithes full fair and well, both of his own 
labour and of his goods. He rode in a tabard upon a mare. 

There were also a Reeve and a Miller, a Summoner and a Par- 
doner, a Manciple and myself; there were no more. 

The Miller was a stout churl, full big of brawn and bones, 
as was well proved, for wheresoever he went, he would win alway 
the ram at wrestling. He was short-shouldered and broad, a 
thick, gnarled fellow. There was no door he would not heave 
off its hinges, or break with his skull at a running. His beard was 
red as a sow or fox, and broad eke as though it were a spade. 
Upon the very tip of his nose he had a wart, and thereon stood a 
tuft of hairs as red as a sow's ear-bristles. His nostrils were 
black and wide ; his mouth as great as a great furnace. A sword 



and buckler he bare beside him. He was a prattler and a buffoon, 
and his prating was most of ribaldries and sin. Well could he 
steal corn and take his toll thrice of what he ground; yet par dee 
he had a thumb of gold. A white coat he wore and a blue hood. 
Well could he blow and sound the bagpipe, and therewith he 
brought us out of town. 

A worthy Manciple there was of an Inn of Court, of whom 
stewards might take ensample how to be wise in buying victual.- F* 
For whether he paid, or took on credit, alway he was so wary in 
his dealing that he was aye before others and in good case. Now 
is not that a fair grace from God that such a plain man's wit 
shall surpass the wisdom of an heap of learned clerks? More 
than thrice ten masters he had that were careful and expert 
in law, of whom in that house there were a dozen worthy to be 
stewards of rent and estate to any lord that is in England, 
and to let him live by his own property in honour, without debt, 
unless he were mad, or live as sparsely as he list men able to 
help a whole shire in any case that might betide, and yet this 
Manciple hoodwinked them all. 

The Reeve was a slender, bilious man. His beard was shaven 
as nigh as ever he could; his hair by his ears was shorn round, 
and docked in front like a priest. Full long were his legs and full 
lean, like a staff ; no calf could ye see. Well could he keep a bin 
and garner, that there was no auditor could prove him in fault. 
Well wist he in drought or showery season, how much his seed and 
grain should yield. His lord's sheep, his dairy, his cattle, his 
swine, his horses, his stores and his poultry were wholly under the 
governance of this reeve, who by his covenant had given the 
reckoning thereof since his lord was twenty years of age; no 
man could find him in arrears. There was no bailiff, nor herds- 



man, nor any other hind, but he knew his trickery and deceit; 
they dreaded him as the death. He could buy better than his 
lord. Full richly had he stored for himself in private; of his 
subtlety well could he please his lord by giving and lending him of 
his lord's own wealth, and win thanks therefor and eke a coat 
and hood. His dwelling was full fair on an heath; the place 
was shadowed by green trees. In youth he had learned a good 
trade; he was an excellent wright, a carpenter. This reeve sat 
on a full good cob that was dapple-grey and named Scot. He 
had on a long surcoat of blue, and bare at his side a rusty blade. 
He was of Northfolk, from nigh a town men call Baldeswelle. 
His coat was tucked up about him, like a friar's, and he rode 
ever the last of our troup. 

A Summoner was with us there, that had a fire-red, cherub's 
face, for he was pimpled with salt rheum, and his eyes were 
slit small. He was as wanton and hot as a sparrow, with scald 
black brows and scurfy beard. Children were afraid of his face. 
There was no quicksilver, litharge nor brimstone, borax, nor white- 
lead, cream of tartar, nor ointment that will corrode and cleanse, 
that might help him of his white blotches, nor of the knobs on 
his face. Well he loved garlick, onions and leeks, and to drink 
strong wine, red as blood. Then he would talk and shout, as if he 
were mad. And when he had drunk of the wine full deep, then 
would he speak no word but Latin. He had a few terms, three 
or four, that he had learned out of some decrees; no wonder 
he heard them all day long; and eke ye know well how a jay can 
cry "Watt!" as well as the pope could. But if a wright should 
test him in other Latin, then had he spent all his learning, and 
aye he would shout "Questio quid juris." He was a worthy rogue 
and a kind, a better fellow is not to be met with ; for a quart of 



ale, he would suffer a good fellow to pursue his vices a twelve 
month, and excuse him fully. Full privily eke could he fleece a 
dupe. And if he found a good fellow anywhere, he would teach 
him in such cases to have no awe of the archdeacon's excommuni- 
cation; unless the man's soul were in his purse, for it was but in 
his purse he should be punished. "Purse," said he, "is the arch- 
deacon's hell." But I wot in right sooth he lied. Every guilty 
man ought to dread excommunication, for Holy Church's curse 
will slay, even as absolution saveth. And also let him beware 
of a significavit nobis. He had at his mercy the indiscreet young 
folk of the diocese, and knew their secrets and was the adviser 
of them all. On his head he had set a garland as great as if it 
were for an ale-house sign ; and he had with him a round-loaf for 
a shield. 

There rode with him a gentle Pardoner, of the house of 
Blessed Mary in Charing, his friend and his gossip, that straight 
was come from the court of Rome. Full loud he sung "Come 
hither, love, to me!" This Summoner bare him a stiff bass, that 
never trumpet was of half so great a sound. This Pardoner had 
hair as yellow as honey, hanging smooth by ounces like a hank 
of flax, and therewith he overspread his shoulders, but it lay thin 
in locks, one by one. In sport, he wore no hood, for it was trussed 
up in his wallet, and save for his cap, he rode bare-headed, with 
locks dangling ; he thought he went all in the new style. He had 
such glaring eyes as an hare. He had sewed a vernicle on his cap, 
and before him on his pommel lay his wallet, brimful of pardons 
all hot from Rome. He had a voice as small as a goat. He had 
no beard nor ever should have ; his face was as smooth as though it 
were lately shaven. But in his trade there was not such another 
pardoner from Berwick unto Ware. For in his wallet he had a 



pillow-case, which he said was our Lady's veil ; he had a scrap, he 
said, of the sail that Saint Peter had what time he walked upon 
the sea when Jesu Christ caught him. He had a latten cross all 
set with feigned jewels, and in a glass he had pig's bones. With 
these relics, when he found a poor parson dwelling in the country, 
he got more money in one day than the parson got in two months ; 
and thus by flattery and tricks of dissembling, he made the people 
and the parson his apes. But, to end with, he was in truth a 
noble ecclesiast in church; well could he read a tale or a lesson, 
but best of all, sing an offertory ; for he wist well when that song 
was ended, he must preach and file his tongue to win silver, as well 
he knew how. Therefore he sung so merry and loud. 

Now have I told you in a few words the rank, the equip- 
ment and the number of this company, and eke why it was 
assembled in Southwark at this gentle hostel that is called the 
Tabard, hard by the Bell. But now it is time to describe unto you 
how we bare us that same night, when we had dismounted at 
that hostelry. And afterward I will tell of our journey, and all 
the remnant of our pilgrimage. But first of your courtesy I pray 
you that ye ascribe it not to my rudeness in this narrative, though 
I speak plainly in telling you their words and their cheer; nor 
though I speak their very words. For this ye know as well as I, 
whosoever shall tell a tale after a man must rehearse each word 
as nigh as ever he is able, if it be in his scope, speak he never 
so rudely and broad, or else he must needs tell his tale untrue, or 
feign things, or find new words. He may not spare any wight, 
although it were his brother ; he must as well say one word as the 
next. Christ himself spake full broad in holy writ, and well ye 
wot it is no coarseness. Plato eke saith whosoever can interpret 
him the word must be cousin to the deed. Also I pray your 



forgiveness if here in this tale I have not set folk in their just 
degree as they should be placed; my wit is short, ye may 

Our host made great cheer for us one and all, and seated 
us anon at supper, and served us with victual as well as might be. 
The wine was strong and well we list to drink. A seemly man 
was our host, to have been a marshal in a hall; a large man, 
with dancing eyes; there is no fairer burgess in Cheapside; bold 
of his speech, wise and well taught; and he lacked right nothing 
of manhood; and he was eke a merry man. After supper he 
began to sport; and after we had paid our reckonings, he spake 
of mirth among other matters, and said thus: 

"Now, lordings, in sooth ye be right welcome to me heartily; 
for by my troth I saw not this year so merry a company at 
once in this hostel as is here this night. Fain would I make you 
some mirth, if I wist how. And even now I bethink me of a 
mirth to please you, and it shall cost naught. Ye go to Canter- 
bury ; God speed you ; the blessed martyr quit you your guerdon. 
And I wot well as ye go your way, ye purpose to tell tales and 
to sport; for truly there is no comfort nor mirth to ride by the 
way dumb as a stone; and therefore, as I said erst, I will make 
you some disport and pleasance. And if it liketh you all, with 
one mind, to stand now by my judgment and to do as I shall 
tell you, to-morrow when ye ride by the way, now, by my 
father's soul in heaven, if ye be not merry I will give you my 
head. Hold up your hands, without more words." 

Our counsel was not long to seek; it seemed not worth while 
to make any bones of it, and we gave him our assent without 
more deliberation, and bade him, as he list, say his verdict. 

"Lordings," quoth he, "now hearken, but I pray you take it 



not with contempt; this is the point, to speak short and plain, 
that each of you on this journey, to shorten our way withal, 
shall tell two tales, on the road to Canterbury I mean, and on the 
road homeward he shall tell other two, of adventures that have 
befallen whilom. And he of you that beareth him best of all, 
that is to say, that telleth for this occasion tales of best instruc- 
tion and most pleasance, shall have a supper, at the cost of us all, 
here in this place, sitting at this post, when we come from Canter- 
bury again. And to make you the merrier, I will myself gladly go 
with you, at mine own cost, and be your guide. And whosoever 
shall gainsay my judgment shall pay all that we spend on the 
road. And if ye vouchsafe that it be so, tell me straightway 
without more words, and I will early prepare me therefor." 

This thing was granted and our oaths sworn with full glad 
heart, and we prayed him also that he would vouchsafe to do 
as he had said, and be our governor, and the judge and umpire 
of our tales, and provide a supper at a certain price; and we 
would be ruled by his decision in high and low; and thus, with 
one mind, we accorded to his judgment. And thereupon the 
wine was fetched. We drank and went everyone to rest with- 
out any longer delay. On the morrow, when day began to 
spring, our host uprose and was chaunticleer to us all, and 
gathered us together all in a flock, and forth we rode, at a little 
more than a walk, unto the watering-place of Saint Thomas. 
There our host began to rein in his horse, and said: "Lordings, 
hearken if ye list. Ye wot your agreement and I remind you 
of it. If even-song accord with morning-song, now let see who 
shaU tell the first story. As ever I hope to drink ale or wine, 
whosoever is rebel to my judgment shall pay for all that is 
bought by the way. Now draw cuts, ere we ride farther. He 



that hath the shortest shall begin. Sir Knight, my lord and 
master, draw thy cut now, for that is my will. Come nearer, my 
lady Prioress; and ye, sir Clerk, let be your shyness and ponder 
not; every man, lay hand to!" 

Straightway every wight began to draw; and to tell briefly 
how it was, were it by chance or by fate or by luck, the truth 
is the lot fell to the Knight, for which everyone was full blithe 
and glad; and he must tell his tale, as was reasonable in accord- 
ance with the promise and agreement which ye have heard ; what 
need of more words? And when this good man saw it was so, 
as one that was sensible and obedient in keeping his willing 
promise, he said : 

"Sith I shall begin the sport, why, welcome be the cut, in 
God's name! Let us ride now, and hearken what I shall say." 

And with that word we rode forward. And he, with full 
merry cheer, began anon his tale, and said in this sort. 

Here endeih the prologue of this book; and here beginneth 
the first tale, which is the Knight's Tale. 

The Knight's Tale 

Jamque domos patrias, Scithice post aspera gentis 
Prelia, laurigero, c. 

WHILOM, as old stories tell us, there was a duke name( 
Theseus, governor and lord of Athens, and in his time 
such a conqueror that beneath the sun there was no 
one greater. Full many a rich country had he won; with his 
wisdom and his knighthood he conquered all the realm of Femeny, 
that before was called Scythia ; he wedded Ipolita the queen, and 
brought her home with him in much glory and great splendour, 
and eke her young sister Emily._ Thus with victory and with 
melody leave I this noble duke riding to Athens, with all his host 
in arms behind him. 

And certes, if it were not too long to hear, I would tell you 
fully the manner how the realm of Femeny was won by Theseus 
and his knights; and of the great battle betwixt the Athenians 
and the Amazons, and how this fair valiant Queen Ipolita was 
besieged; and of the festival at her marriage and the tempest 
at her home-coming. But all this I must now forbear to tell. 
God wot, I have a large field to furrow, and weak are the oxen 
in my plough. The remnant of the tale is long enough. And 
besides I would not hinder any of this company; let every com- 
rade tell his story in turn and we shall see now who is to win 
the supper. So I will begin again where I left. 



When this duke that I speak of was come almost to the 
town in all his pomp and happiness, as he cast his eye on one side 
he was ware how there was kneeling in the highway a company 
of ladies, two and two in order, clad in black, making such a 
cry and such a woe that no creature living in this world heard 
such another lamentation; and they never stopped their cries 
till they had caught the reins of his bridle. "What folk be ye 
that at my home-coming disturb my festival so with cries?" quoth 
Theseus. "Have ye so great ill-will toward my glory, that ye 
lament thus and wail? Or who hath insulted or injured you? 
Tell me if it may be amended, and why ye be thus clothed in 

The eldest lady of them all spake, after she had swooned 
with face so deathlike that it was piteous to see and hear: "Lord, 
to whom Fortune hath granted victory, and to live as a conqueror, 
your glory and honour grieve us not, but we beg for mercy and 
succour. Show thy grace upon our distress and woe of thy 
nobleness let fall some drop of pity upon us unhappy women. 
For truly, lord, there is not one of us all but hath been a duchess 
or a queen; now are we poor wretches, as thou seest, thanks to 
Fortune and her false wheel that unto no rank assureth well- 
being. And verily, lord, here in the temple of the Goddess 
Clemence we have been waiting this whole fortnight against 
your coming. Now help us, lord, sith it lieth in thy power. I, 
wretched woman, who thus weep and wail was whilom wife 
to King Capaneus, who died at Thebes, cursed be that day ! And 
all we who be in this plight and make all this lament lost our 
husbands at that town while the siege lay about it. Yet now, 
alack! the old Creon who is lord of Thebes, full of vice and 
iniquity, hath done scorn to the dead bodies of all our lords, and 



of his tyranny and malice hath had them drawn on a heap, and 
by no means will suffer them to be either buried or burned, but 
in despite maketh hounds to eat them." 

And with that word at once they fell all on their faces, 
piteously crying, "Have some mercy on us wretched women, and 
let our sorrow sink into thy heart." 

This gentle duke leapt from his courser with compassionate 
mood ; it seemed to him his heart would break when he saw them 
so cast down who were wont to be of such high estate. He 
caught them all up in his arms, earnestly comforted them, and 
swore his oath, as he was true knight, that he would go so far as 
his power might reach to avenge them upon the tyrant Creon, 
who had well deserved death; so that all the people of Greece 
should tell how Creon was served by Theseus. And anon he 
displayed his banner, without more tarrying, and rode forth 
toward Thebes and all his host behind him; no nearer Athens 
would he ride, nor take his ease even half a day, but slept that 
night on the road forth, and anon sent Ipolita the queen and her 
fair young sister Emily to abide in the town of Athens, and forth 
he rode ; I have no more to tell. 

The red figure of Mars, with spear and targe, so shineth 
in his broad white banner that the light glanceth up and down 
the field, and beside his banner is borne his pennon of full rich 
gold, in which was beaten out the Minotaur which he slew in 
Crete. Thus rideth this duke, thus rideth this conqueror, and the 
flower of chivalry in his host, till he came to Thebes and dis- 
mounted fairly in a field where he thought it best to fight. But 
to speak shortly of this matter, he fought with Creon the king, 
and slew him in manly fashion in open battle, and put his folk 
to flight; then he won the city by assault, and rent down both 



wall, beam, and rafter; and restored to the ladies the bones of 
their slain husbands that they might do their obsequies as was 
then wonted. But it were all too long to describe the great 
clamour and wailing that the ladies made when the bodies were (fl^ 
burned, or the great honour which Theseus did them when they 
parted from him; to tell shortly is mine intent. When thus the 
worthy duke had slain Creon and won the city of Thebes, he took 
his rest for the night in that field and then dealt with all the 
country as he would. 

After the battle, the pillagers were busy searching in the 
heaps of corpses and stripping them of their harness and gar- 
ments, and so befell that they found in the pile, gashed through 
with many a grievous bloody wound, two young knights lying 
hard by each other, both in one coat-of -arms full richly wrought, 
not fully alive nor quite dead. By their coat-armour and their 
equipment, the heralds knew them well among the rest as of the 
blood royal of Thebes and born of two sisters. Out of the heap 
the pillagers drew them, and gently carried them to the tent of 
Theseus, who full soon sent them to Athens, to dwell in prison 
perpetually; he would have no ransom. And when this worthy 
duke had done thus, he took his host and anon rode homeward, 
crowned with laurel as a victor. And there he liveth in honour 
and joy all his life; what needeth more words? And in a tower 
in anguish and woe dwell this Palamon and eke Arcite forever- 
more, no gold may free them. 

Thus passed day by day and year after year till it befell 
once on a May-morrow that Emily, that was fairer to look upon 
than the lily is upon its green stalk, and fresher than the May 
with its new flowers for her bloom was like the rose, I know not 
which was the fairer of the two ere it were day, as was her wont, 



she was arisen and ready clad. For May will have no sluggardry 
at night, but pricketh every gentle heart and raiseth out of 
sleep and saith "Arise, and do thine observance to the season.'* 
Thus Emily had remembrance to rise and do honour to May. 
She was clothed all brightly, and her yellow hair was braided 
behind in a tress a full yard long. In the garden at the sun- 
rising she walketh up and down, and where she will she gathereth 
flowers white and scarlet to make a delicate garland for her head, 
and singeth like an angel in heaven. Close to the garden-wall 
by which Emily took her pastime rose the great tower, thick and 
strong, and chief donjon of the castle, where the knights were 
in prison of whom I told you and shall tell more. Bright was 
the sun and clear the morning; and Palamon the woeful prisoner 
was gone up as he was wont, by leave of his gaoler, and roamed 
in a chamber on high, whence he saw all the noble city and the 
garden eke, full of green branches, where Emily the fresh and 
fair was wandering. This sorrowful prisoner went roaming to 
and fro in the chamber lamenting to himself. "Alas," he said 
full oft, "alas that he was born!" And so befell by adventure or 
chance that through a window, thick with many a bar of iron 
great and square, he cast his eye upon Emily; and therewith, 
as though he were stung to the heart, he started and cried, "Ah!" 
At that cry anon Arcite started up, saying, "Cousin mine, what 
aileth thee, that thou art so pale and deathlike to look upon? 
What is this cry? What troubleth thee? For God's love, take 
our imprisonment in patience, for it may be no otherwise. This 
adversity is given us by Fortune; some evil disposition or aspect 
of Saturn toward some constellation hath given us this, though 
we had sworn to the contrary. So stood the heaven when we 
were born. We must endure it, that is all." 



Palamon answered, "Cousin, in sooth thine imagining here 
is vain. This prison caused not my clamour, but I was hurt right 
now through mine eye into my heart, and it will be my bane. 
The fairness of that lady that I see yonder in the garden roam- 
ing to and fro is cause of all my woe and crying. I wot not 
whether she be woman or goddess. Soothly Venus it is, I think." 
And therewith down he fell on his knees, and said, "Venus, if 
it be your will thus to transfigure you in this garden before me, 
sorrowful wretched creature, help that we may scape out of this 
prison. And if so be my destiny be shapen by eternal word to 
die in prison, have some pity of our lineage that by tyranny is 
brought so low." 

And with that word Arcite gan espy where this lady was 
wandering, and with the sight her beauty hurt him so that if 
Palamon was grievously wounded, Arcite was hurt as much as 
he or more; and with a sigh he said piteously: "The fresh beauty 
slayeth me suddenly of her that roameth in yonder place; and, 
if I get not her mercy and favour, that I may see her at the least, 
I am dead, I can say no more." 

Palamon, when he heard those words, stared fiercely and 
answered, "Sayest thou this in earnest or sport?" 

"Nay, by my faith," quoth Arcite, "in earnest; so God help 
me, I list full ill to sport." 

Palamon gan knit his two brows. "It were to thee no great 
honour," quoth he, "to be false and traitor to me that am thy 
cousin and brother, sworn full deep, as thou to me, that never, 
though we die under torture, either of us should hinder the other 
in love, or in any other case, dear brother, till death shall part us 
two; but thou shouldst truly further me in every case, and I 
shall further thee this was thine oath and mine also, in faith. 



I wot right well thou darest not gainsay it. Thus art thou of a 
truth in my counsel. Yet now thou wouldst falsely go about to 
love my lady, whom I love and serve, and ever shall till my heart 
perish. Now by my faith, false Arcite, thou shalt not so. I 
loved her first and told thee my grief as to my brother sworn to 
further me, for which thou art bound as a knight to help me 
if it lie in thy power; or else thou art false, I dare avow." 

Full proudly Arcite spake again: "Thou shalt prove false 
rather than I. But thou art false, I tell thee openly, for par 
amour I loved her ere thou. What wilt thou say? Thou knowest 
not yet whether she be woman or goddess! Thine is holy affec- 
tion and mine is love, as toward a creature; wherefore I told 
thee my hap as to my cousin and sworn brother. I put the case 
that thou lovedst her first : knowest thou not the old clerk's saw 
'Who shall lay a law upon a lover?' Love is a greater law, by 
my head, than may be laid upon any man on earth, and there- 
fore human law and decrees are broken every day over all this 
world for love. A man must needs love, maugre his head; he 
may not flee love though it should slay him, be she maid or 
widow or wife. And eke it is not likely that ever in all thy 
days thou shalt stand in her grace, and no more shall I. For 
well thou knowest that thou and I be doomed to prison perpetu- 
ally, no ransom availeth us. We strive like the hounds for the 
bone; they fought all day, yet they gained naught, for there 
came a kite above them in their fury and bore away the bone 
betwixt them both. And therefore at the king's court each 
man for himself, there is no other rule. Love if thou wilt, for I 
love and ever shall, and in sooth, dear brother, this is all: here 
in this prison must we endure, and each of us take his lot." 

Great and long was the strife betwixt the two, if I had 



leisure to tell it; but to the point. It happened on a time (to 

tell you as shortly as I may) a worthy duke that was called 
Perotheus, and was fellow to Duke Theseus since they were 
little children, was come to Athens to visit him and take his 
pleasure, as he was wont. For in this world he so loved no man, 
and Theseus loved him as tenderly; so well they loved, as old 
books say, that when one was dead his fellow went and sought him 
down in hell (but of that story I care not to speak). Duke 
Perotheus had known Arcite at Thebes many a year and loved 
him well, and finally at the prayer of Perotheus, without any 
ransom, Duke Theseus let him out of prison freely to go where he 
would, on such terms as I shall tell you. If so be that Arcita 
were ever found by day or night in any realm of Theseus it was 
accorded that by the sword he should lose his head; there was 
no remedy. He taketh his leave and homeward he sped him. 
Let him beware ; his neck lieth in pledge. 

How great a sorrow he suffereth now ! He f eeleth the death 
smite through his heart, he weepeth, waileth, piteously crieth, he 
looketh privily to slay himself. "Alas the day that I was 
born!" he said. "Now is my prison worse than before, now 
am I doomed eternally to abide not in purgatory, but in hell. 
Alas, that ever I knew Perotheus, for else I had dwelt with 
Theseus fettered in his prison evermore! Then had I been in 
bliss and not in this woe; only the sight of her whom I serve, 
though I might never win her grace, would have well sufficed 
for me. O dear cousin Palamon," he cried, "thine is the victory 
in this adventure, full blissfully mayst thou endure in prison. 
In prison? Nay, but in Paradise. Well hath Fortune turned the 
die for thee, who hast the sight of her, and I only the longing. 
For it may well be, since thou hast her presence and art a knight 



worthy and able, that by some chance of changeful fortune thou 
mayst attain sometime to thy desire. But I that am exiled and 
barren of all grace and so out of hope that there is no earth, 
water, air, nor fire, nor creature made thereof, that may do me 
help or comfort, well may I perish in misery and despair. Fare- 
well my gladness and my life ! 

"Alas, why complain folk so commonly of the providence 
of God or of fortune, that full oft disposeth them in many 
a guise better than they can contrive for themselves? One man 
desireth to have riches, that become cause of his murder or great 
malady; another would fain be out of his prison, and is slain 
by his household. Infinite harms follow hence, we know not 
what we pray for. We fare as he that is drunk as a mouse; 
a drunken man wot well he hath an home, but wot not which is 
the right way thither, and to a drunken man the way is slippery. 
And certes in this world so we fare; much we seek after felicity, 
but full often we go wrong. Thus may we well say and I above 
all, who weened that, if I might escape, I should be in joy and 
perfect weal; yet now am I exiled from my happiness. Sith 
I may not see you, Emily, I die, there is no help." 

On the other side, Palamon, when he wist that Arcite was 
gone, made such sorrow that the great tower resounded with his 
clamour. The very fetters on his great shins were wet with 
salt and bitter tears. "Alack!" quoth he, "Arcite, my cousin, of 
all our strife, God wot thine is the fruit. Thou walkest now in 
Thebes at large and heedest my woe but little. With thy pru- 
dence and manhood thou mayst assemble all the folk of our 
kindred, and make so sharp a war on this city that by some 
chance or treaty thou mayst have her to lady and wife for 
whom I must needs die. Great may be thy hopes over me that 



perish here in a cage, with all the woes of prison and eke with 
the pain of love, that doubleth all my torment." Therewith the 
fire of jealousy flared up and kindled upon his heart so madly 
that he turned pale as the box-tree or the ashes dead and cold. 
"O cruel gods," he cried, "that govern this world with the bind- 
ing of your everlasting decree, and write on tables of adamant 
your eternal word, why is mankind more bound in duty to you 
than the sheep that cowereth in the fold? For man is slain like 
another beast, and dwelleth in prison and hath sickness and 
adversity, and ofttimes guiltless. What justice is in the Provi- 
dence that thus tormenteth the innocent? And yet this increaseth 
my suffering, that man is bound for God's sake to give up his 
will, where a beast may perform all his desire. And when a 
beast is dead his trouble is past, but man after his death must 
weep, though in this world he have care and woe. Well I wot 
that in this world is misery; let divines explain it if they may. 
Alas! I see a serpent, or thief, go at large and turn where he 
list, that hath done mischief to many a true man. But Saturn 
holdeth me in prison, and eke Juno jealous and furious, that hath 
destroyed well nigh all the blood of Thebes, and laid its broad 
walls all waste; and from the other side Venus slayeth me with 
jealousy and fear of Arcite." 

The summer passeth, and the long nig Vis increase in double 
wise the pains both of the free lover and the prisoner. I wot 
not which hath the woefuller calling. I ask you lovers now, 
who hath the worse, Arcite or Palamon? The one may see his 
lady day after day, but perpetually is doomed to prison, to die 
in chains and fetters; the other may go where he will, but from 
that country he is exiled upon pain of death, and his lady he may 
see no more. Judge as ye will, ye that can, for now I will 



stint of Palamon a little and let him dwell silently in his prison, 
and I will tell forth of Arcite. 

Explicit prima pars. 
Sequitur pars secunda. 

When Arcite was come to Thebes, full oft a day he swooned ; 
and, shortly to conclude, so much sorrow had never creature that 
is or shall be while the world may last. His sleep, his meat, 
his drink is bereft him, that he waxed lean and dry as a stalk; 
his eyes hollow and grisly to see, his hue yellow and pale as 
cold ashes, and ever he was solitary and moaning all the night, 
and if he heard song or instrument of music, then would he 
weep and might not refrain; so feeble were his spirits and low 
and so changed that no man knew his speech or voice. And 
in his acts he fared not only like the lover's malady of Eros, 
but for all the world like madness engendered of melancholy 
humour in the cell of fantasy in his brain. And, shortly, all was 
turned upside-down, both habit and disposition of this woeful 
lover Dan Arcite. 

Why should I endite of his woe all day? When a year or 
two he had endured this cruel torment, upon a night as he lay 
in sleep, him seemed how the winged god Mercury stood before 
him and bade him be merry. His staff of sleep he bore upright 
in his hand, and wore a hat upon his bright hair, and seemed as 
when he charmed Argus asleep; and said to him thus: "Thou 
shalt fare to Athens, there an end of thy woe is decreed." At 
that Arcite started up. "Now truly, whatever betide," quoth he, 
"I will to Athens, nor will I spare for the dread of death to look 
upon my lady whom I love and serve ; in her presence I care not 



if I die." And with that word he caught up a great mirror and 
saw his visage all disfigured with his malady, and anon it ran 
into his mind that, if he bore him low evermore, he might live in 
Athens unknown, and see his lady nigh day by day. Then he 
changed his garb and clad him as a poor labourer, and all alone, 
save for a squire who knew his privity and was disguised poorly as 
he was, to Athens he went the next day. At the palace-gate he 
proffered his service to drudge and draw, whatso men would 
command him. And shortly to speak of this matter, he fell into 
office with a chamberlain that dwelt with Emily, and was wise 
and could soon espy who should serve her best. Well could 
Arcite hew wood and bear water, for he was young and mighty 
and big of bones, to do what any wight could appoint him. A 
year or two he was in this service, a page in the chamber of Emily 
the bright, and Philostrate he said was his name. But half so 
well beloved a man of his degree was never in court. He 
was so noble of disposition that throughout the court went his 
repute; they said it were a kind deed if Theseus would raise 
his station and put him in worshipful service, where he might 
employ his virtue. And thus within a while the name is sprung 
so wide of his fair speech and deeds that Theseus hath taken him 
near and made him squire of his chamber and given him gold 
to maintain his degree ; and eke from year to year full privily men 
brought him his revenue out of his country, but seemly and 
slily he spent it, that no man wondered whence it came. Three 
years in this wise he led his life, and bare him so in peace and 
war that Theseus held no man dearer. And in this bliss I leave 
Arcite now, and I will speak a little of Palamon. 

In darkness and in prison horrible and strong he hath lain 
this seven year, pining in woe and affliction. Who f eeleth double 



sorrow and heaviness but Palamon? Love distraineth him so 
that he goeth mad out of his wit, and thereto he is a prisoner 
perpetually, not only for a year. Who could properly rhyme in 
English his martyrdom? In sooth, not I; therefore I pass on 
as lightly as I can. 

It fell in the seventh year, in May, the third night (as it 
is said in old books that tell all this story more at large), were 
it by fortune or destiny (by which when a thing is decreed it 
must be), that soon after the midnight, with the helping of a 
friend, Palamon broke his prison, and fast as he might go, fled 
the city. For he had given his gaoler drink, made of a certain 
wine with sleepy drugs and fine opium of Thebes, that all the 
night the gaoler slept, and might not awake though men should 
shake him. And thus as fast as ever he may he fleeth. The 
night is short and the day at hand, that needs he must hide, 
and to a grove hard by he glideth with fearful foot ; for this was 
his device, to hide in the grove all day and by night take his 
journey toward Thebes, to pray his friends to help him war on 
Theseus; and, shortly, either he would die or win Emily to 
wife, this is the effect and his full intent. 

Now will I turn unto Arcite, that little wist how nigh was 
his dismay till fortune had brought him in the snare. 

The busy lark, messenger of morning, saluteth in her song 
the grey dawn; and fiery Phoebus upriseth, that all the orient 
laugheth with the light, and with his beams drieth in the groves 
the silver drops hanging on the leaves. And Arcite, who is in 
the royal court, chief squire to Theseus, is risen, and looketh on 
the merry morning ; and to do his observance to May, remember- 
ing what he longeth for, is ridden from out the court into the 
field a mile or two, to take his pastime on a courser that boundeth 



as the flame. And to the grove of which I told you he held his way 
by chance, to make him a garland, were it of woodbine or of 
hawthorn-leaves; and loud he sang in the face of the bright 
sun: "May, with all thy flowers and thy green, welcome be thou, 
May, the fair and fresh I hope that I shall find some green." 
With a lusty heart he leaped from his courser into the grove, 
and in a path he roamed up and down, where by adventure this 
Palamon was in a bush, that no man might see him, for sore 
af eared of his death was he. And he knew not that it was 
Arcite: God wot he would have trowed it full little. But sooth 
is said many years agone that "field hath eyes and wood 
hath ears." It is full fair if a man can bear him steady, for 
every day he meeteth men unlocked for. Little wist Arcite that 
his fellow was so nigh, to hearken all his words, for in the bush 
now he sitteth full still. 

When that Arcite hath roamed his fill and sung lustily all 
the roundel, suddenly he f alleth into a study, as do these lovers 
in their odd turns, now in the tree-tops, now down among the 
briars ; now up, now down, as a bucket in a well. Right as on the 
Friday, soothly for to say, now it shineth, now it raineth, so can 
fickle Venus overcast the hearts of her folk; right as her day 
is fickle, so changeth she her mind. Seldom is the Friday like 
all the week. 

When Arcite had sung he began to sigh, and sat him down. 
"Alas!" quoth he, "alas, that day that I was born! How long 
through thy cruelty, Juno, wilt thou war against Thebes city? 
Alas! the blood royal of Amphion and Cadmus is brought to 
confusion. Cadmus, that was the first man that built Thebes 
or began the town and was first crowned king, of his lineage 
am I and his offspring by true line, and of the royal stock ; and 



now I am so miserable and so enthralled that I serve poorly, as 
his squire, him that is my mortal enemy. And Juno doth me 
yet more ignominy, for I dare not avow mine own name, but I 
that was wont to be called Arcite now am called Philostrate, not 
worth a farthing. Alas, thou fell Mars ! Alas, Juno ! thus hath 
your ire all fordone our kindred save me only and wretched 
Palamon, that Theseus martyreth in fetters. And above all this, 
and utterly to slay me, Love hath stuck his fiery dart so burningly 
through my heart that my death was shapen for me before my 
swaddling bands. Ye slay me with your eyes, Emily, ye be the 
cause of my dying. Of all the remnant I set not the amount 
of a tare, so that I could do aught to your pleasure." And with 
that word he fell down a long time in a trance. 

This Palamon, that thought he felt a cold sword glide sud- 
denly through his heart, quaked for ire when he had heard 
Arcite's tale, and no longer would he abide, but with face dead 
and pale started up out of the thick bushes as he were mad, and 
said: "Arcite, false wicked traitor, now art thou caught that so 
lovest my lady for whom I have all this pain, and art of my 
blood and sworn to my counsel, as I have told thee full oft; and 
thou hast here cozened Duke Theseus and falsely changed thy 
name. I will be dead, or else thou. Thou shalt not love my 
lady Emily, but I will love her only, for I am Palamon and 
thy mortal foe. And though in this place I have no weapon, 
but am escaped out of prison only by good chance, either thou 
shalt die, I doubt not, or thou shalt not love Emily. Choose 
which thou wilt, thou shalt not escape." 

This Arcite, with full pitiless heart, when he knew him and 
had heard his tale, as fierce as a lion pulled out his sword, and 
said: "By God that sitteth on high, wert thou not sick and mad 



for love and eke hast no weapon here, never shouldst thou pass 
out of this grove, but die at mine hand. For I defy the bond 
which thou sayst I made. What, very fool! Think well that 
love is free, and I will love her, maugre thy strength. But for- 
asmuch as thou art a worthy knight and wouldst contest her 
by battle, take here my pledge that without knowledge of any 
other wight to-morrow I will not fail, I swear by my chivalry, 
to be here and bring thee harness sufficient; and do thou choose 
the best and leave the worst for me. And meat and drink 
enough for thee I will bring this night, and clothes for thy 
bedding. And if so be thou win my lady and slay me in this 
wood, thou mayst have thy lady, for aught that I can do." Pala- 
mon answered, "I consent;" and so, when each had laid his faith 
in pledge, they parted till the morrow. 

O Cupid, out of all charity! O kingdom that will have no 
sharing! Full soothly is it said that love nor lordship will have 
no fellow with him. Well Arcite and Palamon have found that. 
Anon Arcite hath ridden into the town, and ere day -light on the 
morrow he hath privily prepared two suits of harness, both suffi- 
cient and meet for the battle in the field betwixt the twain. And 
alone as he was born he carrieth all this harness before him on 
his horse; and in the grove this Arcite and Palamon be met at 
the time and place appointed. Then gan the colour change in 
their visages ; right as the hunter in the country of Thrace, when 
the bear or the lion is hunted, standeth at the gap with a spear, 
and heareth him come rushing in the groves and breaking both 
leaves and boughs, and thinketh, "Here cometh my mortal 
enemy, without fail, either he is lost or I ;" so fared they in the 
changing of their hue, as far off as either could see the other. 
There was no "good-day," nor salutation; without word or de- 




bate each of them helped straightway for to arm each as friendly 
as it had been his own brother. And after that, with spears 
sharp and stout they thrust at each other wondrous long. Thou 
mightest ween that this Palamon in his fighting was a maddened 
lion; and as a cruel tiger was Arcite; they smote as wild boars, 
that froth white foam for mad ire ; up to the ankle they fought 
in their blood. And in this wise I leave them fighting, and I will 
tell you forth of Theseus. 

Destiny, the general minister, that executeth over all the 
world the purveyance that God hath foreordained, so strong 
it is that, though the world had sworn the contrary of a thing, 
yea or nay, yet on a time a thing shall befall that falleth not 
again within a thousand years. For certainly our appetites here, 
be it of love or hate, or war or peace, all these are ruled by the 
oversight above. This I mean now of mighty Theseus, who hath 
such desire to hunt, and chiefly for the great hart in the spring- 
time, that in his bed there dawneth on him no day that he is 
not clad and ready to ride forth with hunt and horn and hounds. 
For all his joy and appetite is it to be himself the great hart's 
death ; for after Mars he serveth now Diane. 

Clear was the day, as I told before, and Theseus, with all 
joy and bliss, and his Ipolita the fair, and Emily clothed all in 
green, are ridden royally a-hunting, and to the grove hard by, 
in which was an hart (as men told him), Duke Theseus hath 
held the straight path, and to the glade rideth, whither the hart 
was wont to flee, and over a brook and forth on his way; this 
duke will have a course or two at him with hounds such as he 
hath chosen. And when he is come to the glade, in the face of 
the sun he peereth under his hand and anon is ware of Arcite 
and Palamon, that fight as it were two boars. The bright swords 



go to and fro so hideously that the least of their blows, it seemeth, 
would fell an oak. Who they be he knoweth not, but he smiteth 
his courser with the spurs, and at a bound is betwixt them, and 
out with his sword and crieth: "Ho! no more, on pain of losing 
your heads. By mighty Mars, but he shall die at once that smiteth 
any stroke more. But tell me what sort of men be ye that be 
so hardy as here to fight without judge or other officer, as if it 
were a royal lists." 

This Palamon answered instantly: "Sire, what need of fur- 
ther words? We have deserved the death, both of us. Two 
woeful wretches be we, two caitiffs, wearied of our own lives; 
and as thou art a just lord and judge, grant us neither mercy 
nor escape; slay me first, for the sake of holy charity, but eke 
slay my fellow as well. Or slay him first, for, though thou 
knowest it but little, this is thy mortal foe, this is Arcite, that is 
banished from thy land on pain of death, for which he hath 
deserved to die. This is he that came to thy palace-door and said 
that his name was Philostrate. Thus many a year hath he tricked 
thee, and thou hast made him thy chief squire. And this is he 
that loveth Emily. For I make plainly my confession, sith the 
day of my death is come, that I am that woeful Palamon that 
broke thy prison wickedly. I am thy mortal foe; and I love so 
hot the glorious Emily that I would die in her sight. Therefore 
I ask my sentence and death, but slay my fellow in the same 
wise, for we both have deserved to be slain." 

The worthy duke answered at once, and said: "This is a short 
conclusion : your own mouth hath condemned you, and I will wit- 
ness to it. It needeth not to torment you with the cord, ye shall 
die, by mighty Mars the red!" 

The queen, for very womanhood, gan anon for to weep, and 



so did Emily and all the ladies in the troup. Great pity it was, 
as seemed to them, that ever such a chance should befall for 
gentles they were, of great estate, and only for love was the 
strife; and the ladies saw their bloody wounds wide and sore, 
and they all cried, great and small: "Have mercy, lord, upon 
us women!" And on their bare knees down they fell to kiss his 
1 feet, till at the last his mood was softened ; for pity cometh soon 
in gentle heart. And though at first he quaked for ire, he gan 
to view the trespass of them and eke the cause thereof, and 
though that his ire declared their guilt, yet his reason excused them 
both; as thus, he thought well that every man, if he may, will 
help himself in love and eke deliver himself from prison; and 
his heart had pity because of the women, for they wept ever 
alike; and anon in his gentle heart he thought and softly said: 
"Fie upon a lord that will have no mercy, but be a lion in word 
and deed to them that be repentant and meek, as well as to proud, 
angry men that will stiffly maintain their trespass! That lord 
hath little discretion that in such cases knoweth no difference, but 
weigheth pride and humility alike." And, to make few words, 
when his ire was thus gone, he gan to look up with smiling eyes 
and spake these words aloud: "Ah, benedicite, the god of love! 
How great and mighty a lord is he ! Against his might availeth 
no barrier. Well may he be called a god for his miracles, sith 
he can do with every heart as he will. Lo here ! this Palamon and 
this Arcite were wholly out of my prison and might have lived 
royally in Thebes, and know that I am their mortal enemy and 
hold their death within my might; and yet, maugre their two 
eyne, hath love brought them hither both to die. Look now, 
is not that an high folly? Who is a fool, but he who is in love? 
For God's sake that sitteth on high, behold hoy/ they bleed! Be 



they not in a joyous plight? Thus hath their lord paid them 
their wages and their fees, and yet he that serveth Love seemeth 
to himself full wise. But this is the best of the story, that she 
for whose sake they have this merriment thanketh them for it 
no more than me; by Heaven's King, she wot no more of all 
this hot ado than doth a cuckoo or an hare. But a man must 
make trial of all things, hot and cold; in youth or else in age 
every man will be a fool. I wot it by myself, for in my time, 
full yore ago, a lover was I. And therefore, sith I know how 
sore love's pain may afflict a man, and as one who oft hath 
been caught in his noose, all wholly I forgive you this trespass 
at request of the queen that kneeleth for you, and of Emily, 
my sister dear. And ye shall both anon swear unto me that ye 
shall nevermore harm my country, nor war upon me by day or 
night, but be my friends in all that ye can. I forgive you this 
trespass every whit." 

And fair and well they swore to him what he requireth and 
prayed him for favour and that he would be their good lord, 
and he granted them grace, and thus he said : 

"As for riches and royal lineage, out of doubt each of you 
is worthy to wed when time may be, were she a princess or a 
queen, but natheless (I speak as to my sister, Emily, for whom 
you have this strife) ye wot yourselves, though ye fight for 
evermore, she may not wed two at once ; one of you, be he never 
so loath, must go pipe in an ivy-leaf. She may not have you 
both, be ye as raging and jealous as ye may. And therefore I 
assign you terms that each of you shall take the destiny decreed 
him ; and hearken in what wise. My will is this and my flat con- 
clusion, that admitteth no reply, if it like you, then take it for 
the best, that each of you shall go freely where he will, without 



control or ransom ; and this day fifty weeks, no farther nor nearer, 
each of you shall bring an hundred knights, armed aright for the 
lists, all ready to contest her by battle. And this I promise you 
upon my troth and as I am a knight, that whichsoever of you 
hath the greater power, this is to say that whether he or thou 
may, with his hundred that I speak of, slay his adversary or force 
him out of lists, to him shall I give Emily to wife, to whichso- 
ever of you Fortune granteth so fair a grace. The lists I shall 
make here on this ground, and so may God have mercy on my 
soul, as I shall be a true and fair judge. Ye shall make no 
other terms with me for the joust but that one of you shall be 
either slain or taken. And if ye deem this well said, tell your 
mind and be content. This is my end and my conclusion for 


Who looketh now lightly but Palamon? Who springeth up 
for joy but Arcite? Who could tell or express it, the joy that is 
made there when Theseus hath done so fair a grace? Down on 
knees went every wight and thanked him with all their hearts, 
and most of all and oft and oft the Thebans. And thus with 
good hope and hearts blithe they take their leave and homeward 
ride, to Thebes with its broad old walls. 

Explicit secunda pars. 
Sequitur pars tercia. 

I trow men would deem it negligence if I should forget to 
tell of the lavishness of Theseus, who worketh so heartily to set 
up the lists in royal manner that such a noble theatre, I dare well 
say, was not in all this world. A mile it was in circuit, walled of 
stone and ditched without ; the shape was round, as a circle, full 



of tiers rising by sixty paces, that when a man was set on one tier 
he hindered not his neighbour from seeing. Eastward there 
stood a gate of white marble, and westward and opposite right 
such another. And shortly to conclude, such another building 
there was not on earth, within so little space. For there was 
no crafty man in the country that knew geometry or arithmetic, 
nor portrayer or carver of images, that Theseus gave him not 
meat and hire to plan and to build the theatre. And for to do 
his pious rites and sacrifice, eastward above upon the gate he 
caused an altar to be made and an oratory in worship of Venus, 
goddess of love, and westward he made right such another in 
celebration of Mars, that cost many a load of gold; and north- 
ward in a turret an oratory rich to look on, of red coral and 
alabaster white, hath Theseus wrought in noble wise in worship 
of Diane the chaste. 

But I have forgotten to describe as yet the noble carving 
and the portraitures, the figures and the semblances, that were 
in these three oratories. First in the temple of Venus wrought 
full piteously in the wall mayst thou see the broken sleeps and the 
chilling sighs, the sacred tears, the lamentation and the fiery 
strokes of desire that love's servants endure in this life ; the oaths 
that confirm their covenants, gladness, hope, desire and fool- 
hardiness, beauty and youth, mirth, riches, spells and violence, 
lyings, flattery, waste and disquietude and jealousy, that wore 
a garland of yellow marigolds and had a cuckoo sitting in her 
hand. All delights, singing, dancing, festivals, instruments of 
music, fair array, and all the circumstance of love which I have 
recounted and shall recount were painted in order on the wall, 
and more than I can make mention of. For soothly all the 
mount of Citheroun, where Venus hath her principal dwelling, 



was showed on the wall in portraiture with the lustiness thereof 
and all the garden. The porter Idleness was not forgotten, nor 
Narcissus the fair of yore ago, nor yet King Solomon's folly, 
nor yet the great strength of Hercules, the enchantments of 
Circe and Medea, nor Turnus, of spirit hardy and fierce, nor 
the rich Croesus, caitiff in bondage. Thus may ye see that wis- 
dom nor riches, beauty nor cunning, strength nor hardiness 
may hold copartnership with Venus, for she can guide the world 
as she will. Lo ! all these folk were so caught in her snare, till for 
woe they said full oft "Alas!" Here one or two ensamples I 
let suffice, though I could reckon a thousand. 

The naked statue of Venus, glorious for to behold, was float- 
ing in the wide sea, and from the middle down was covered all 
with green waves bright as any glass. A psaltery she had in her 
right hand, and on her head, full seemly to see, a rose garland, 
fresh and well smelling. Above her head fluttered her doves, 
and before her stood Cupid, her son, two wings upon his shoulders, 
and he was blind, as he is oft portrayed, and bare a bow with 
bright and keen arrows. 

Why should I not eke tell you all the portraiture that was 
upon the wall within the temple of Mars the red and mighty? All 
painted was it in length and breadth like to the inner parts 
of the grisly abode that is called the great temple of Mars 
in Thrace, in that cold and frosty region where Mars hath his 
supreme dwelling-place. First on the wall a forest was painted 
in which dwelt neither man nor beast, with aged barren trees, 
knotted and gnarled, sharp stumps and hideous to behold, through 
which there ran a rumbling and a gusty wind, as though the storm 
should rend every bough. And downward under an hill there 
stood the temple of Mars armipotent, wrought all of burnished 



steel, and the entrance was long and strait and ghastly to see, 
and thereout came a blast and rage that made all the gates to 
clatter. A light from the north shone in at the doors, for window 
on the wall there was none. The doors were all of eternal ada- 
mant, clamped along and across with toughest iron ; and to make 
the temple strong, every pillar that held it aloft was as great 
as a tun, of iron bright. There saw I first the dark imagining 
of felony and all the consummation; the cruel ire, red as a coal, 
the pickpurse, and eke pale fear, the smiler with the knife under 
the mantle, the stables burning in black smoke, the treachery 
of the murder in the bed, open war with wounds all bleeding, 
strife with bloody blade and sharp threat. All full of shrieking 
was that sorry place. The slayer of himself I saw depicted on 
the wall; his heart's blood hath bathed all his hair. I saw the 
nail driven through the skull at night; I saw cold death lie with 
gaping mouth. Amid the temple sat mischance with woe and 
sorry visage. Madness I saw laughing in his frenzy, armed 
lament, outcry and fierce outrage; the corpse in the bush with 
throat cut through; men slain by thousands, the tyrant with his 
prey reft by force, the town all destroyed. Yet again, I saw 
burned the speedy ships, the hunter strangled by the wild bears, 
the sow devouring the child even in the cradle, the cook scalded 
for all his long spoon. No mischance was forgotten that Mars 
bringeth to pass; the carter run over by his cart full low he 
lay under the wheel. There were also the craftsmen of Mars, 
the barber, the butcher and the smith, that on his anvil forgeth 
sharp swords. And all above, painted in a tower, sitting in great 
pomp saw I Conquest, with the sharp sword above him hanging by 
a subtle thread of twine. The slaughter of Julius was painted, 
of Antonius and of great Nero (albeit they were unborn at this 



time, yet was their death by menacing of Mars painted before 
in plain image) ; so was it showed in that portraiture as it is 
depicted in the stars on high, who shall be slain or else who 
shall die for love. Let one ensample suffice here from old 
stories, I may not reckon them all, though I would. 

The statue of Mars stood upon a car all armed and looked 
grim as in a fury, and over his head there shone two figures of 
stars that be called, in writings, the one Rubeus, the other Puella ; 
thus the god of arms was presented. Before him at his feet 
stood a wolf with red eyes, and ate of a man. Subtly all this 
was wrought in reverence of Mars and of his glory. 

Now to the temple of Diane the virgin will I haste me as 
shortly as I can, to tell you all the description thereof. High 
and low on the walls hunting was depicted and shamefast 
chastity. There saw I how woeful Callisto, when that she 
aggrieved Diane, was turned from a woman to a bear, and after- 
ward she was made the lodestar; thus was it painted, I can tell 
you no further. Her son is a star eke, as men may behold. There 
saw I Dane turned to a tree I mean not the goddess Diane, 
but the daughter of Penneus that was called Daphne. There 
saw I Actseon turned to an hart for vengeance that he saw Diane 
all naked; I saw how that his hounds have caught him and 
devoured him, for that they knew him not. A little further on 
was painted how the wild boar was hunted by Atalanta, and 
Meleager and many another, for which Diane wrought him care 
and woe. There saw I many another story even as wondrous, 
which I list not draw to mind. This goddess sat full high on 
an hart, with small hounds all about her feet, and under her feet 
was the moon, that was waxing and anon would wane. In yellow- 
green her statue was clothed with bow in hand and arrows in 



a quiver. Her eyes she cast down full low to that dark region 
where Pluto dwelleth. Before her was a woman in travail, and 
full piteously, because her child was so long unborn, gan she call 
upon Lucina and said "Help, for thou mayst best of all." Well 
could he paint to the life that wrought it, and many a florin he 
paid for the hues. 

Now were the lists made, and when they were done, wondrous 
well was Theseus pleased, that at his great cost thus furnished 
the temples and the theatre. But I will stint a little of Theseus, 
and speak of Arcite and Palamon. 

The day of their returning approacheth, when each shall 
bring an hundred knights to decide the cause by battle, as I told 
you. And to Athens, for to hold their covenant, hath each of 
them brought an hundred knights well and fitly armed for the 
war. And in sooth many a man trowed that never since the 
world was made, as far as God hath formed earth or sea, to 
speak of the knightly feats of their hands, was there so noble 
a company of so few. For every wight that loved chivalry 
and would have a surpassing name hath prayed that he might 
be in that combat, and happy was he that was chosen thereto. 
For if to-morrow there befell such a case, ye know well that 
every lusty knight that loveth hotly and hath his strength, be 
it in England or some other land, would wish to be there. To 
fight for a lady, benedicite! it were a lusty sight to behold. 

And right so fared they with Palamon, with him went many a 
knight. One man would be armed in an habergeon, in a breast- 
plate and a light jupon. One would have a great suit of plate 
armour, and one a Prussian shield or targe, and another would be 
well armed on his legs and have an ax, and another a mace of steel. 
There is no new fashion, that it is not old. They were armed, as I 



have said, each after his own liking. There, coming with Pala- 
mon, mayst thou see Ligurge himself, the great King of Thrace. 
Manly was his countenance and black was his beard; the circles 
of his eyes glowed betwixt yellow and red, with rough hairs on 
his heavy brow, and like a grif on he looked about ; his limbs great, 
his shoulders broad, his brawn hard and arms round and long. 
And he stood, as the usage was in his country, full high upon a 
car of gold with four white bulls in the trace. Over his harness 
instead of a coat-of -arms, with claws yellow and bright as gold, he 
had a bear's skin, coal-black and very ancient. His long hair was 
combed behind; as any raven's feather it shone black; a wreath 
of gold great as an arm was upon his head, huge of weight, 
set full of bright stones, of diamonds and rubies fine. About 
his car went white mastiffs as great as any steer, twenty and 
more, to hunt at the lion or the hart, and followed him with 
muzzle fast bound and collars of gold with rings filed therein. 
An hundred lords, armed full well, he had in his troop, with 
hearts stout and stern. 

With Arcite, as men read in stories, came the great Emetreus, 
the King of Ind, riding like the god of arms Mars, upon a bay 
steed, trapped in steel, covered with diapered cloth of gold. His 
saddle was of burnished gold new beaten out. The vesture, 
whereon were blazed his arms, was of cloth of Tartary, laid 
with pearls white and round and great ; a mantlet hung upon his 
shoulder, full of rubies sparkling as fire. His crisp hair ran in 
yellow rings and glittered as the sun. Bright citron in hue were 
his eyes and high his nose, his lips were round and his colour 
sanguine, a few freckles sprinkled on his face, betwixt yellow 
and black. And as a lion he cast his look. I account his age 
at five and twenty; his beard was well begun to spring, and 



his voice as a thunderous trump. Upon his head he wore a fresh 
and lusty garland of green laurel, and bare upon his hand a 
tame eagle, for his pleasure, white as any lily. An hundred 
lords he had there with him, all armed save their heads in all their 
gear, and full richly. For trust well that in this noble company 
were gathered both dukes and earls and kings, for love and exalt- 
ing of chivalry. About this king upon each side there ran full i 
many a tame lion and leopard. 

And in this wise these lords one and all were come, upon 
the Sunday about prime, and dismounted in the town. When this 
Theseus, this duke, this worthy knight, had brought them into 
his city and lodged them each after his degree, he feasted them 
and strove so to entertain and honour them that men ween yet 
that no man's cunning in the world could amend it. The service 
at the feast, the precious gifts to great and small, the minstrelsy, 
the rich array of Theseus' palace; what ladies be fairest or best 
can dance, or which can best dance and sing, or who speaketh 
of love most feelingly, or who sitteth first or last upon the dais, 
what hawks perch above, what hounds lie beneath on the floor: 
of all this now I make no mention. The pith, methinketh, is 
best to tell; now cometh the point. Hearken if ye list. 

The Sunday night, when Palamon heard the lark sing, ere 
day began to break (though it were not day by two hours, yet 
sang the lark and Palamon also) , with holy thoughts and an high 
heart he rose, to wend on his pilgrimage unto the blessed, benign 
Citherea, I mean Venus the honourable and worthy. And in her 
hour he walked forth softly unto the lists, where her temple was, 
and down he knelt and with humble cheer and sore heart he said 
as I shall tell you. 

"Fairest of fair, O lady mine, spouse of Vulcanus and 


daughter of Jove, thou that gladdenest the mount of Citheroun, 
have pity of my bitter tears and take my humble prayer in thine 
heart, for that love thou hadst to Adon. Alas! I have no 
language to speak the torments of my hell. Mine heart may not 
express the harms I suffer, I am so confounded that I can say 
naught. But mercy, lady bright, that well knowest my thought 
and what harms I feel, consider all this and have ruth upon 
my pain, as surely as I shall be thy true servant for evermore, 
as lieth in my might, and hold war alway with chastity. This vow 
I make so ye help me. I care not to boast of arms, nor ask 
to triumph on the morrow, or have renown in this joust, or vain 
glory for mine arms trumpeted up and down, but I would have 
full possession of Emily and die in serving thee. Find then the 
manner how ; I reck not whether it may be better to have victory of 
them, or they of me, so I have my lady in mine arms. For though 
so be Mars is god of battles, your virtue is so great in heaven 
that, if ye list, I shall fully have my love. Thy temple ever- 
more will I honour, and on thine altar, whatsoever my condition, 
will I do sacrifice and maintain fires. And if ye will not so, then 
Pray I thee, my lady sweet, that to-morrow with his lance Arcite 
may bear me through the heart. Then reck I not, when I am no 
more, though Arcite win her to his wife. This is the effect and 
end of my petition, give me my love, thou dear and blessed 

When his orison was made, he did his sacrifice full piously, 
and that anon, with all circumstance, though I tell not now his 
rites. But at the last the statue of Venus shook and made a 
sign, whereby he understood that his prayer was accepted. For 
though the sign showed a delay, yet wist he well that his 
boon was granted him, and with glad heart he went home anon. 



The third hour after Palamon set forth to Venus' temple, 
up rose the sun, and up rose Emily, and gan hasten to the temple 
of Diane. Her maidens that she led thither had the fire full 
ready with them, the incense, the vestures and all the residue that 
belongeth to the sacrifice, the horns full of mead, as was the 
usage ; there lacked naught for doing her ceremony. While they 
censed the temple, full of fair hangings, this Emily with gentle 
heart washed her body in water from a spring, but I dare not 
tell how she did her rite, unless it be a few words in general. 
(And yet it were merry to hear the whole; in him that meaneth 
well it were no offence, and it is good that a man be frank of 
his tongue.) Her bright hair was combed, all untressed. A 
crown of green leaves of cerrial oak full fair and meet was set 
upon her head. Two fires she gan kindle on the altar, and did her 
ritual as men may read in Stace of Thebes and these old books. 
And when the fire was kindled, with pious cheer she spake 
unto Diane as I shall say. 

"O chaste goddess of the forest green, who beholdest both 
heaven and earth and sea, queen of the realm of Pluto dark and 
profound, goddess of maidens that hast known my heart full 
many a year, and knowest what I wish, keep me from thine ire 
and vengeance, that Actseon cruelly suffered. Chaste goddess, 
well knowest thou that I would be a maiden all my days, and 
never be a sweetheart or wife. Thou knowest I am yet of thy 
company, a maid, and love hunting and to walk in the savage 
woods, and not to be a wife and be with child. Nothing would 
I know of the company of man. Now help me, lady, sith ye 
may, for the honour of those three forms of thy godhead; and 
Palamon and eke Arcite that love me so sore this grace alone 
I pray thee, to send love and peace betwixt them, and so turn 



away their hearts from me that all their hot love and their endless 
torment and their fire be quenched or turned toward another 
place. And if so be thou wilt show me no favour, or if my 
destiny be decreed that I must needs have one of them, send me 
him that most desireth me. Goddess of clean virginity, behold 
the bitter tears that drop upon my cheeks. Sith thou art maid 
and keeper of all thine own, guard thou well my maidenhood, 
and while I live I will serve thee as a maid." 

The fires burned clear upon the altar while Emily was pray- 
ing thus, but suddenly she saw a wonderful sight. For right 
anon one of the fires went out, and took life again, and anon 
after that the other fire went out black and cold; and as it was 
quenched it made a whistling, as do these wet brands in the fire, 
and at the ends of the brands ran out as it were many a bloody 
drop; for which so sore she was aghast that she was well nigh 
mad and gan cry, for she wist not what it betokened, but only 
for the fear hath she cried thus and wept, that it was pity to 
see her. And upon that Diane appeared, with bow in hand, even 
as an huntress, and said : "Daughter, stint thy dreariness. Among 
the high gods it is decreed, and written and confirmed by eternal 
word that thou shalt be wedded unto one of them that have for 
thee so much pain; but to which of them I may not say. Fare- 
well, I may tarry no longer. The fires that burn on mine altar, 
ere thou go hence, shall declare to thee thy lot in this love." 
And with that word the arrows in the quiver of the goddess clat- 
tered and rang aloud, and forth she went and vanished ; for which 
this Emily was all astonied and said: "Alas! what meaneth this? 
I put me in thy protection, Diane, and in thy governance." And 
home she went anon as shortly as she might. This is all, there 
is no more to say. 



At the next hour of Mars hereafter, Arcite walked unto the 
temple of Mars the fierce, to do his sacrifice with all the rites of 
his pagan manner. With high devotion and heart devout he 
said his orison to the god right thus: "O strong god, that in the 
cold realms of Thrace art honoured and held for lord, and in 
every country and every realm hast in thine hand all the bridle 
of arms and disposest their fortunes as thou wilt, accept of me 
my devout sacrifice. If so be my youth may have merit and 
my might be worthy to serve thy godhead, that I may be one 
of thine, I pray thee to have pity of my grief; remembering 
that pain and that hot fire in which thou whilom burnedst for the 
beauty of Venus the fair and fresh and young; although once 
it mishapped thee on a time, when Vulcanus had caught thee 
in his net, alas! For that sorrow which was in thine heart, have 
ruth upon my pains as well. I am young, thou knowest, and 
uncunning, and with love most tormented, as I trow, of any crea- 
ture living ; for she that maketh me to endure all this woe recketh 
never whether I sink or float. And well I wot that I must win 
her by strength upon the field, ere she will show me favour, and 
well I wot without help or grace of thee my strength may not 
avail. Then help me, lord, in my battle for that fire in which 
thou whilom burnedst as now it burneth me, and grant me vic- 
tory on the morrow. Mine be the travail and thine be the glory. 
Thy sovereign temple will I most honour of all places, and 
alway toil most in thy pleasure and thy strong arts, and in thy 
temple I will hang my banner and all the arms of my com- 
pany, and I will maintain eternal fire before thee evermore, 
until the day I die. And eke I bind me to this vow, my beard 
and my hair I will give thee, that hang down long and never yet 
felt offence of razor or of shears, and I will be thy true servant 



while I live. Now, lord, have ruth upon my sorrows and give 
me victory. I ask thee no more." 

The prayer of Arcite ended, the temple-doors and eke the 
rings that hung upon them clattered full loud, for which Arcite 
was somewhat aghast. The fires flared up upon the altar and gan 
illumine all the temple, and the ground gave up a smell most 
sweet. And Arcite anon lifted his hand and cast more incense 
upon the fire, with other rites. And at the last the statue of Mars 
began to ring his hauberk; and with that sound he heard a 
murmuring full low and dim that said "Victory," for which he 
gave honour and laud to Mars. And thus with joy and hope 
Arcite went anon unto his lodging, as fain as a fowl is of the 
bright sun. 

And right anon such strife began in the heaven above, for the 
granting of these prayers, betwixt Venus and Mars, goddess 
of love and the stern god armipotent, that Jupiter was busy 
to stint it; till pale cold Saturnus, that knew so many ancient 
adventures, found an art in his old experience that full soon 
pleased either side. Sooth is said, age hath great advantage, 
in age is both wisdom and experience; men may outrun the old 
but not outwit. To stint contention and fear, albeit that it 
is against his nature, Saturn gan find a remedy for all this strife. 
"Dear my daughter Venus," quoth Saturn, "my course, that 
hath so wide an orbit, hath more power than any creature wot. 
Mine is the drowning in the wan sea, mine is the imprisoning in 
the dark cell, mine the strangling and hanging by the throat, 
the murmur, the groaning, the rebellion of the churls, the privy 
empoisoning. While I dwell in the sign of the Lion, I do ven- 
geance and full chastisement. Mine is the overthrow of the high 
castle, the falling of the towers and walls on the sapper and the 



carpenter. I slew Samson when he shook the column, and mine 
be the cold maladies, the dark treasons and the ancient stratagems ; 
mine influence is the father of pestilence. Now weep no more, 
I shall bring it to pass that Palamon, thine own knight, shall 
have his lady as thou hast promised. Though Mars shall help 
his knight, yet ere long there shall be peace betwixt you, albeit 
ye be not of one like influence, which ever causeth strife. Weep 
thou no more. I am thy grandsire, all ready to do thy will. I 
will effect thy pleasure." 

Now I will stint to speak of the gods above, of Mars and of 
Venus, and I will tell you as plainly as I can the chief matter, 
for which I tell the tale. 

Explicit tercia pars. 
Sequitur pars quarta. 

Great is the festival in Athens, and eke the lusty season of 
May kindleth such jollity that every wight jousteth and danceth 
all the Monday, and spendeth it in Venus' high service. But 
because they shall be early up to see the great fight, they go at 
length unto their rest. And on the morrow when day springeth, 
in hostelries all about is noise and clattering of horses and of 
arms, and many a rout of lords on steeds and palfreys rideth 
to the palace. There mayst thou see harness rare and rich, well 
wrought with steel, goldsmithry and broidering; bright shields, 
head-pieces, trappings, helms of beaten gold, hauberks, coat- 
armours ; lords in rich tunics on their coursers, retinues of knights ; 
and eke squires nailing heads on spears and buckling helms, 
putting straps on shields and lacing with thongs, no whit slothful 
where there is need ; foamy steeds gnawing on the golden bridle, 



and hard by, the armourers running to and fro with file and 
hammer; yeomen on foot, and many commons with short staves, 
thick as they may go; pipes, drums, clarions, trumps, that blow 
bloody sounds in battle; the palace up and down full of people 
holding talk, here three, there ten, surmising of these two Theban 
knights. Some say this, some say it shall be thus, some 
hold with him of the black beard, some with the bald one, some 
with him of the thick hair; some say this man looketh grim and 
he will fight; that one hath a battle-ax twenty pound of weight. 
Thus was the hall full of surmises long after the sun gan spring. 

The great Theseus, that was waked from his sleep by the min- 
strelsy and noise, held yet his chamber till the Theban knights, 
both alike honoured, were fetched into the palace. Duke Theseus 
was set at a window, arrayed as he were a god on throne. Full 
quickly the people pressed thitherward to see him and do high 
reverence, and eke to hearken his behest and decree. An herald 
on a scaffold cried "Ho!" till all the noise of the people was 
done, and when he saw them quiet he showed the pleasure of the 
mighty duke. 

"The lord hath considered in his high wisdom that it were 
destruction to gentle blood to fight in this emprise in the manner 
of mortal battle; wherefore to ordain that they shall not die, 
he will change his first purpose. Let no man therefore, on pain 
of death, send or bring into the lists any manner of shot or 
pole-ax or short knife, nor short sword with sharp point for to 
stab; let no man draw it or bear it by him. And no man shall 
ride against his fellow but one course with sharp -ground spear, 
but on foot he may thrust, if he will, to defend himself. And 
he that is put to the worse shall be seized, and not slain but 
brought unto the stake that shall be ordained on either side; 



thither he shall be led by force and there remain. And if so 
befall that the chieftain be taken on either side, or else slay his 
adversary, the tourneying shall last no longer. God speed you. 
Go forth and lay on hard; with long sword and with mace fight 
your fill. Go your way now, this is the lord's decree." 

The voice of the people touched the heaven, so loud they cried 
with joyous voice: "God save so good a lord he will have no 
destruction of blood!" Up went the trumpets and melody, and 
to the lists rode the troop in order through the broad city, that 
was all hung with no serge but with cloth of gold. Full lordly 
rode this noble duke, these two Thebans on either hand, and next 
rode the queen and Emily, and after that another troop of sundry 
folk after their degree. And thus they passed throughout Athens 
and betimes came to the lists. It was not yet fully prime of day 
when Theseus was set down, Ipolita the queen, and Emily, full 
high and rich, and other ladies in rows around. Unto the seats 
presseth all the rout. And on the west, through the gates beneath 
the shrine of Mars, entereth Arcite right anon and eke the hun- 
dred of his party with banner red; and in that same moment 
eastward on the field entereth Palamon beneath the shrine of 
Venus, with white banner and hardy cheer. To seek up and 
down in all the world, were nowhere such two companies, so 
even, without varying. For there was none so wise could say 
that either had of the other pre-eminence in valour or in estate or 
age, so evenly were they chosen, I trow. And in two fair ranks 
they drew up. When their names had been read every one that 
there might be no guile in their number, then were the gates 
shut and a herald cried on high: "Do your devoir now, proud 
young knights!" 

The heralds leave their dashing about, now high ring trump 



and clarion, there is no more to say but on both sides in go the 
spears full firmly in rest, and in goeth the sharp spur into the 
flank. There men see who can ride and who can joust, there 
shiver shafts upon thick shields, one man f eeleth the stab through 
the breast, up spring the spears twenty foot on high, out go the 
swords bright as silver and hew and shred the helmets, out bursteth 
the blood with red stern streams, with mighty maces they break 
the bones. One thrusteth through the thick of the throng, there 
stalwart steeds stumble and down go horse and man, one rolleth 
under foot like a ball, one thrusteth on his feet with his shattered 
spear-butt, and another with his horse hurtleth him down. One 
is hurt through the body, and then, maugre his head, is captured 
and brought unto the stake, as was the agreement, and there he 
must even remain; another is led thither on the other side. And 
sometimes, to refresh them, Theseus causeth them to rest, and 
drink, if they will. Full oft have these two Thebans met together 
and each wrought his fellow woe; twice hath each unhorsed the 
other. There is no tigress in the vale of Galgopheye, when her 
little whelp is stolen, so cruel on the hunt as Arcite, for his jealous 
heart is upon this Palamon; nor in Belmarye is there so fell a 
lion that is hunted or mad for hunger, or that desireth so the blood 
of his prey as Palamon to slay Arcite his foe. The jealous 
strokes bite in their helms; out runneth the red blood on the 
sides of both. 

v Sometime every deed hath end; and ere the sun went to rest, 
the strong King Emetreus, as this Palamon fought with his 
enemy, gan seize him and made his sword to bite deep in his 
flesh, and by the force of twenty was he caught, unyielding, 
and drawn unto the stake. And in attempt to rescue him the 
strong King Ligurge was borne down, and for all his might King 



Emetreus was borne a sword's length from his saddle, so did 
Palamon hit him ere he was taken. But all was for naught, 
he was brought in; his hardy heart might not help him, he must 
needs abide, by force and eke by his agreement. Who shall 
sorrow now but woful Palamon, that may go no more to fight? 
And when Theseus hath seen this, he cried unto the folk that 
fought, "Ho! no more, for it is done! I will be true, impartial 
judge. Arcite of Thebes, that by his fortune hath fairly won 
her, shall have Emily." Anon began the noise of the people 
for joy of this, so loud and high that it seemed the lists should 

What now can fair Venus do? What saith she, what doth 
the queen of love? She weepeth, for wanting her wish, till her 
tears fall down into the lists. She saith: "Without all doubt, I 
am disgraced." "Daughter, hold thy peace," Saturn replied; 
"Mars hath his will, and his knight hath all he prayed for, and 
full soon, by mine head, thou shalt be eased." 

The loud minstrelsy and trumpets, the heralds, that cried 
full loud, sounded on high for joy of lord Arcite. But be silent 
now a space and hearken what a miracle anon befell. The fierce 
Arcite had doffed his helm for to show his face, and on a courser 
spurred down the long field, looking upward to Emily. And 
she cast on him a friendly eye, for women, to speak generally, 
all follow the favour of fortune; and in his heart she was all 
his cheer. Out of the ground sprang an infernal fury, sent 
from Pluto at request of Saturn, for fear of which Arcite's 
horse gan swerve and leap aside, and as he leapt, foundered; 
and ere Arcite might take heed he flung him to the ground on 
his head. There he lay as one slain, his breast all crushed with 
his saddle-bow, his face all black as a coal or raven, so was the 



blood run into it. Anon with hearts full sore they bore him from 
the lists to Theseus' palace. Then was he cut out of his armour, 
and full fair and soon brought into a bed, for he was yet alive 
and conscious, and alway crying for Emily. 

Duke Theseus with all his troop was come home to Athens 
with all bliss and great pageantry. Albeit this misadventure had 
betided, he would not discomfort them all; men said eke that 
Arcite shall not die, but he shall be healed of his harm. And 
they were even as fain of another thing, that of them all there 
was none killed, though they were sore hurt, and above all one, 
whose breast-bone was pierced by a spear. For other wounds 
and for broken bones some had salves and some had charms; 
they drank brews made of herbs and eke sage to preserve their 
limbs. Wherefore, as well he wist how, this noble duke encour- 
aged and honoured every man and made revel all the long night 
for the strange lords, even as was seemly. Nor was it held that 
any had been discomfited, but only as at a joust or tourney, for 
in sooth there had been no discomfiture; falling is but a chance, 
it is but an ill fortune to be drawn by force, without yielding, 
unto the stake, one man alone to be seized by twenty knights 
and haled forth by arm and foot, and eke his steed driven with 
clubs by men on foot, yeomen and knaves it was deemed no 
reproach to him, no man may call it cowardice. For which anon, 
to stint all envy and rancour, Duke Theseus caused to publish 
the fame of either side alike, as of brethren, and gave each man 
gifts according to his dignity, and full three days held a feast, 
and a long day's journey accompanied the kings out of his town. 
Home went every man the straight road, there was nothing more 
but "Farewell, have good day." Of this battle I say no more, 
but I will speak of Arcite and of Palamon. 



The breast of Arcite swelleth, and more and more the hurt 
increaseth at his heart. Spite of any leechcraft, the clotted 
blood corrupteth and remaineth in his body, that neither cupping 
nor cutting of a vein nor drink of herbs may help him. The 
animal expulsive virtue of his natural strength may not void 
the venom. The pipes of his lungs begin to swell, and every 
muscle from his breast down is wasted by venom and corruption. 
To save him availeth neither vomit upward nor downward laxa- 
tive; all that region is crushed, nature hath now no dominion. 
And certainly, where nature will not act, farewell physic! go 
bear the man to church! This is all, that Arcite may not live. 
Wherefore he sendeth for Emily and Palamon his cousin, and 
then saith he thus as ye shall hear. 

"The woful spirit in mine heart may not declare to you, my 
lady, that I love most, one point of all my bitter sorrows, but sith 
my life may no longer last, I bequeath the service of my spirit to 
you above every creature. Alas, the woe, alas, the pains that I 
have suffered for you so long ! Alas, the death ! Alas, our parting ! 
Alas, mine Emily, mine heart's queen, my wife, mine heart's lady 
and my slayer! What is this world, what would men? Now 
with his love, now in his cold grave, alone, without a fellow. 
Farewell, my sweet foe, mine Emily, and softly take me in 
your two arms, for the love of God, and hearken to my words. 
I have had strife and rancour many a long day with my cousin 
Palamon for love of you and for jealousy. And so truly may 
Jupiter conduct my soul, to speak properly of a lover with all 
particulars, that is of his truth, honour, knighthood, wisdom 
and humility, high kindred and estate, liberality and all these 
virtues, so may Jupiter have part and lot in my soul as in 
this world wot I now of no man so worthy to be loved as Palamon 



that serveth you, and will till he die. And if ye shall ever be a 
wife, forget not Palamon the gentle." 

And with that word his speech gan fail. From his feet 
up to his breast was come the cold of death that descended 
upon him, and in his two arms the vital strength is lost and gone. 
The intellect that dwelt in his sick and sore heart gan fade; his 
sight grew dusky and his breath failed. But still he cast his 
eye upon his lady; his last word was "Emily, your love!" His 
spirit changed house and went whither, sith I never came thence, 
I cannot tell. Therefore I stint, I am not one of the divines, 
of souls I find naught in this record, and I list not give their 
opinions of them, though they write where they dwell. Arcite 
is cold, and may Mars guide his soul! Now will I speak forth 
of the others. 

Emily shrieked and Palamon wept, and Theseus anon took 
his sister swooning and bore her from the corpse. What helpeth 
it to tell all day how she wept both eve and morn? For when 
their husbands be gone from them, women for the more part 
sorrow so, or else fall in such sickness that at the last certainly 
they die. Infinite were the sorrow and the tears for this Theban's 
death, of old folk and folk of tender age in all the town, for 
him wept both man and child; in truth there was no such weep- 
ing when Hector was brought all freshly slain to Troy. Alas, 
the pity that there was! scratching of cheeks and rending of 
hair! "Why wouldst thou die," these women exclaim, "who 
hadst gold enough, and Emily!" No man might gladden the 
duke saving Egeus, his old father, that knew this world's trans- 
mutation, as he had seen it change back and forth, woe after 
gladness and joy after woe, and he showed him ensamples 
thereof. "Right as man never died that had not lived some- 



where in earth, so there lived never man in all this world that 
sometime he died not. We be pilgrims passing to and fro on 
this woful thoroughfare which is the world. Death is an end 
of all earthly trouble." And over all this yet he said much 
more to this effect, full wisely to encourage the people to take 

Duke Theseus considered now with all busy care where the 
sepulture of good Arcite might best be made and most honour- 
ably for his rank. And at the last he determined that where 
first Arcite and Palamon had the battle between them for their 
love, in that same green, sweet grove, where Arcite made his 
complaint and suffered in the hot fire of love, he would build 
a pyre on which he might accomplish all the funeral office. And 
he commanded anon to hew and hack the ancient oaks and lay 
them on rows in logs well arrayed to burn. Anon his officers ran 
with swift foot and rode at his command. And after this he hath 
sent after a bier and overspread it all with cloth of gold, the 
richest that he had. And with the same he clad Arcite; white 
gloves on his hands, and on his head a crown of green laurel 
and in his hand a sword bright and sharp. He laid him on the 
bier with face uncovered, and wept so that it was pity to behold. 
And that the people all might see him, when it was day he 
brought him to the hall, that ringeth with the crying. Then 
came this woful Palamon, his hair all rough with ashes and his 
beard all ragged, in black clothes sprinkled with his tears; and 
Emily, that passeth others in weeping, the ruefullest of all. 
That the service might be the more noble and rich Duke Theseus 
let three great white steeds be brought out, that were trapped 
in steel and all glittering and covered with the arms of lord 
Arcite. Upon these steeds sat folk, of whom one bore the shield 



and another in his hands the spear; the third bore with him the 
Turkish bow, the case whereof and eke the harness were of 
burnished gold. And with sorrowful cheer they rode forth at 
a foot-pace toward the grove, as I shall tell you. The noblest 
of the Greeks that were there carried the bier upon their 
shoulders through the city with slack pace and eyes wet and 
red, by the chief street, that was spread all with black and hung 
wondrous high with the same. On the right hand old Egeus 
went and on the other side the duke, with golden vessels in 
their hands ?ull of honey, milk, blood and wine; then Palamon, 
with a full great troop; and after that woful Emily, bearing 
fire in her hand to do the funeral office, as was that time the 

High labour and provision full richly wrought was at the 
funeral rite and making of the pyre, that with its green top 
reached the heaven and stretched its arms twenty fathom in 
breadth (this is to say, the boughs reached out so far) . First was 
laid many a load of straw. But how the pile was builded up, 
and eke the names how the trees were called (as oak, fir, aspen, 
birch, alder, holm, poplar, whipple-tree, elm, willow, ash, box, 
plane, chestnut, linden, laurel, thorn, maple, beech, hazel and 
yew) , how all these were felled shall not be told for me; nor how 
the gods ran up and down, disinherited from their abode in 
which they dwelt in rest and peace, Nymphs, Hamadryads and 
Fauns; nor how all the beasts and birds fled in fear when the 
wood was felled; nor how the ground was aghast of the light, 
that was not wont to see the sun; nor how the fire was laid first 
with straw, and then with dry sticks cloven, and then with green 
wood and spicery, and then with cloth of gold and gems and 
garlands hanging with many a flower, the myrrh, the incense 



and all sweet odours; nor how among all this lay Arcite's body, 
with what riches about him; nor how Emily, as was the custom, 
put in the funeral fire; nor how she swooned or what she spake 
or what was her wish; what jewels men cast into the fire when it 
gan burn furiously, how one cast his shield and one his spear, 
and some cast of their raiment, and cups full of wine, milk and 
blood; how the Greeks with an huge troop rode thrice about 
all the fire with a great shout and thrice clattering their spears, 
and how the ladies thrice cried aloud; how Arcite was burnt to 
cold ashes, how Emily was led homeward, how the lich-wake was 
held all that night, and how the Greeks held the funeral-games ; 
who wrestled best naked and anoint with oil, and who bare him 
best and came off victor: all this I care not to say. I will not 
tell eke how they came home to Athens, when the games were 
done, but I will come shortly to the point and make an end of 
my long tale. 

After process of certain years by general agreement the 
mourning of the Greeks was all stinted. At this time, I learn, 
a parliament was held at Athens upon certain points and cases, 
among which points they treated of having alliance with cer- 
tain countries and of having fully the submission of the Thebans. 
Wherefore anon this lordly Theseus sent after noble Palamon, 
unknown to him what was the cause; but in his black clothes 
sorrowfully he came in haste at his commandment. Then sent 
Theseus for Emily. When they were set down and all the place 
was hushed, and when, ere any word came from his wise breast, 
Theseus had abode still for a space, he fixed his eyes and with 
a grave visage he sighed, and thus said his will. 

"When the great first-moving Cause had created the fair chain 
of love, great was the deed and high his intent, and well wist he 



what he did. For with that fair chain of love he bound the 
fire and air, the earth and water, within certain limits that 
they may not escape. That same Prince and Mover of all 
things," quoth he, "hath established certain days and dura- 
tions down in this wretched world for all that is engendered here, 
beyond which days they may not pass, though indeed they may 
shorten them. There needeth allege none authority, save that 
I would declare my belief that it is so, for it is proved by expe- 
rience. Then may men well see by this order of things that this 
great Mover is stable and eternal; unless it be a fool, a man 
may well know that every part is derived from its whole. For 
nature hath not taken her origin from any corner or part of 
a thing but from a thing that is stable and perfect, and descendeth 
so therefrom till she became corruptible. And therefore, of his 
wise providence, God hath so well set his decree that all kinds 
and series of things shall endure only by succession and verily 
shall not be eternal. This ye may understand and see by the 
eye. So the oak, that hath so long a youth from the time when 
it first beginneth to spring, and hath so long a life, yet at the last 
it wasteth. Consider eke how the hard stone under our feet, on 
which we tread, yet wasteth as it lieth by the wayside. Sometime 
the broad river waxeth dry. Great towns we see wane and pass 
away. Then ye may see that all things come to an end. 

"Of man and woman we see well also that, young or old, 
they must die, the king as shall a page ; one in his bed, one in the 
deep sea, one in the broad field, as ye may behold. Naught 
helpeth, all goeth that same road. Thus I may say that all must 
die. Who doth this but Jupiter, who is prince and cause of all 
things and turneth all things back unto their proper source from 
which they were derived? And against this it availeth no living 



creature to contend. Then is it wisdom, methinketh, to make 
virtue of necessity and take well what we may not eschew, and 
especially that which is decreed us all. And whoso murmureth 
at all, he doth folly and is rebel against him that guideth all 
things. And certainly a man hath most glory to die in the flower 
of his excellence, when he is secure of his fair repute and hath 
done his friend or himself no shame. His friend ought to be 
gladder when he yieldeth up his breath in honour, than when his 
name is all paled for age because his prowess is all forgotten. 
Then is it best for a worthy repute that a man should die when he 
is highest of fame. To be contrary to all this is wilful; why 
repine we, why have we heaviness, that good Arcite, flower of 
chivalry, hath done his duty gloriously and is departed out of 
the foul prison of this flesh? Why murmur his cousin and his 
wife at the welfare of him that loved them so? Doth he thank 
them? Nay, never a bit, God wot, for they hurt both his soul 
and eke themselves, and yet they gain naught thereby. 

"What may I conclude from this long discourse but that 
after woe I counsel that we be merry and thank Jupiter for all his 
grace? And ere we depart hence, I counsel that we make of 
two sorrows one perfect joy lasting evermore; and look now, 
where most sorrow is, there will we first begin to amend it. Sis- 
ter," quoth he, "this is my full edict, with the counsel here of my 
parliament, that ye shall of your grace take pity on noble Pala- 
mon, your own knight, that serveth you with heart and will, 
and ever hath done since ye first knew him, and that ye shall 
take him for husband and lord. Give me your hand, for thus 
we decree. Let see now your womanly compassion. Pardee, he 
is a king's brother's son ; and though he were a poor squire, since 
he hath served you so many a day and had so great adversity for 



you, it should be considered, believe me, your gentle mercy ought 
to pass bare justice." 

Then said he, "O Palamon, I trow there is but small need 
of sermoning to make you assent to this. Draw nearer, and take 
your lady by the hand." 

Betwixt them anon was made the bond of matrimony by all 
the council and baronage. And thus with all bliss and song 
hath Palamon wedded Emily. And God, that hath wrought all 
this wide world, send him the love that he hath paid for so dear. 
Now is Palamon in all weal, living in bliss, in health and in 
richesse, and Emily so tenderly loveth him and he so nobly serveth 
her that never was there word between them of jealousy or any 
other annoy. Thus end Palamon and Emily; and God save all 
this fair fellowship! Amen. 

Here is ended the Knight's Tale. 


Words of the Host 

Behold the merry words of the Host to the Shipman and to 

the Lady Prioress. 

""W "Tf TELL said," quoth our host, "by corpus dominus, now 
y y long may thou sail by these shores, sir gentle master, 
gentle mariner ! God give this monk a thousand cart- 
loads of bad years ! Aha ! beware, fellows, of such a trick ! The 
Monk put an ape in the man's hood, and in his wife's eke, by 
Saint Austin! Take no more monks unto your hearth. But 
now pass we over and seek who of all this rout shall tell 
first another tale;" and with that word, as courteously as if he 
spake to a young maid, "My lady Prioress," quoth he, "by your 
leave, if so I wist I should not trouble you, I would deem that 
ye should tell a tale next, if so it were to your pleasure. Now 
will ye vouchsafe, my lady dear?" "Gladly," quoth she, and said 
as ye shall be told. 

The Prologue of the Prioress' Tale 

Domine, dominus nosier. 

LORD, our lord," quoth she, "how marvelous is thy 
name spread in this large world, for not only is thy 
precious laud performed by men of dignity, but by 
the mouths of children thy goodness is celebrated, for sucking 
on the breast sometime they show thy praise. Wherefore, as I 
best can, in laud of thee and of the white lily-flower which bore 
thee and is alway a maid, I will do my diligence to tell a story, 
not that I may increase her honour, for she is herself honour 
and the root of goodness next to her son, and soul's redemption. 
"O mother-maid! O maid-mother bounteous! O unburnt 
bush burning before Moses' eyes, that through thine humbleness 
didst draw down from the deity the Ghost that alighted in thee, 
of whose virtue, when he illumined thy heart, was conceived the 
father's sapience, help me to tell it in thine honour. Lady, thy 
magnificence, thy great humility, thy goodness and thy power, 
no tongue may express by any wisdom; for sometimes, ere men 
pray to thee, lady, thou goest before of thy graciousness, and 
through thy prayer gettest us the light to guide us unto thy 
dear son. O blessed queen, so weak is my cunning to declare thy 
worth, that I may not bear the weight ; but as a child of twelve 
months old that can scarcely express a word, even so fare I, and 
therefore I pray you guide my story that I shall teE of you." 



fte twu^Itt 

The Prioress' Tale 

Here beginneth the Prioress* Tale. 

In a great city of Asia amongst the Christian folk there was 
a Jewry, sustained by a lord of that land for foul usury and 
villainous lucre, hateful to Christ and his followers; and men 
might ride or walk through the street, for it was free and open 
at both ends. Down at the farther limit there was a little 
school of Christian folk, in which there were a throng of children 
of Christian blood, that learned year by year in that school such 
lore as was wonted in that place, that is to say, to read and sing, 
as small children do in their childhood. 

Among these children there was a widow's son, a little chor- 
ister-boy seven years of age, that day by day went to school, 
and eke as he had been taught it was his wont, where he saw 
the image of Christ's mother as he went by the way, to kneel down 
and say his Ave Marie. So hath this widow taught her little 
son to honour aye our blessed lady, Christ's mother dear, and he 
forgot it in no wise, for a good child will alway learn soon; 
and ever, when I have this thing in remembrance, Saint Nicholas 
standeth aye before me, because he did reverence to Christ so 
young. This little child, as he sat in the school, learning his 
little primer, heard sung Alma redemptoris, as the children 
learned their anthem-book, and as he durst, he drew nearer and 
nearer and hearkened ever the words and the note till he knew 
the first verse all by heart. He wist not at all what this Latin 
meant, for he was so young and tender in years ; but one day he 
prayed his fellow to expound him this song in his own language, 
or to tell him why this song was in use. This he prayed him to 
construe and explain full oft a time upon his bare knees. 

His fellow, that was older than he, answered him thus: "I 



have heard tell that this song was made to salute our noble blessed 
lady, and eke for to pray her to be our succour and help when 
we die. I can expound no more thereof; I learn singing; I know 
but small grammar." 

"And is this song made in reverence of Christ's mother?" said 
this innocent, "now certes I will do my best to know it all, ere 
Christmas is gone; though I shall be scolded for my primer and 
be beaten thrice in an hour, I will know it to honour our lady." 

His fellow taught him in secret from day to day on the way 
home, till he knew it by heart, and then he sung it boldly and 
well from word to word in accord with the tune; twice a day it 
passed through his throat, when he went schoolward and home- 
ward; his mind was set on Christ's mother. As I have said, this 
little child, as he came to and fro through the Jewry, would sing 
full merrily, and cry evermore O alma redemptoris; the sweetness 
of Christ's mother hath so pierced his heart, that in prayer to 
her, he cannot stint singing by the way. 

Our first foe, the serpent Sathanas, that in a Jew's heart 
hath his wasp's nest, up-swelled and said: "O Hebrew people 
is this, alas! a thing seemly to you, that such a boy shall walk 
as he list in your despite and sing of such a theme, which is 
against the reverence of your law?" From thenceforth the 
Jews have conspired to hunt this innocent out of this world. 
Thereto they have paid an homicyde that had a privy dwelling 
in an alley; and as the child gan pass by, this cursed Jew seized 
him and held him fast, and cut his throat and flung him into 
a pit. 

O cursed folk of new Herods, what may your evil mind avail 
you? Murder will out; verily it must; and chiefly where the 
honour of God is pledged, the blood crieth out on your cursed 



act. O martyr, confirmed to virginity, now mayst thou sing, 
following ever and ever the white lamb celestial, of which the 
great evangelist wrote, Saint John in Pathmos, who saith that 
they that go before this lamb and sing a fresh song, never carnally 
know women. 

All that night this poor widow awaiteth her little child, but 
he came not; for which, as soon as it was day, with face pale 
for dread and anxious disquietude, she hath sought him at school 
and elsewhere, till finally she espied thus far that he was last seen 
in the Jewry. With mother's pity pent in her breast, she goeth as 
it were half out of her mind to every place where by likelihood 
she hath supposed her little child might be, and ever she cried 
on Christ's mother meek and kind, and at last she came to seek 
him among the cursed Jews. 

She asketh and prayeth piteously of every Jew that dwelt 
there to tell her if her child had passed by. They said "Nay;" 
but after a little while, Jesu of his grace put it in her thought 
to call aloud for her son in that place where he was cast beside 
the way into a pit. O great God, that performeth thy praise 
by the mouths of innocents, lo Thy power! This gem of chas- 
tity, this emerald and eke this bright ruby of martyrdom, where 
he lay prone with slashed throat, began to sing Alma redemp- 
toris so loud that all the place rang. The Christian folk that 
passed through the street came in to wonder upon this thing, 
and sent forthwith for the provost, who cometh anon without 
delay and praiseth Christ that is king of heaven and eke the glory 
of mankind, his mother, and after that he causeth the Jews to be 

With piteous lament, this child was taken up, alway singing 
his song, and with honours of a great procession they carried him 



unto the nearest abbey. His mother lay swooning by the bier; 
so that scarce could the people draw this new Rachel from his 

This provost causeth these Jews that wist of his murder to 
be slain, and that anon, with torment and shameful death; he 
would suffer no such cursedness. Evil shall have what evil 
deserveth, therefore he let them be drawn with wild horses and 
after that he hanged them by law. Aye upon his bier lieth this 
innocent before the chief altar while mass was singing, and after, 
the abbot and his monks sped them to bury him, and when they 
cast holy water on him yet spake this child and sang ff O alma 
redemptoris mater!" 

This abbot, that was an holy man, as monks be, or else ought 
to be, begun to conjure this young child and said, "O dear child, 
in virtue of the holy Trinity, I supplicate thee tell what is thy 
reason for singing, sith to my seeming thy neck is cut?" "My 
throat is cut to my neck-bone," said this child, "and by way of 
nature, I should have died, yea, long time ago, but as ye may 
learn in books, Jesu Christ willeth that his glory last and be 
kept in mind, so for the worship of his sweet mother, I may still 
sing f O alma' clear and loud. This well of mercy, Christ's dear 
mother, I loved alway according to my knowledge and when I 
was to lose my life she came to me and bade me to sing this 
anthem even in my death as ye have heard, and while I was sing- 
ing, methought she laid a grain on my tongue. Wherefore I 
sing, and needs I must sing in honour of that blessed and noble 
maiden, till the grain is taken from off my tongue ; and afterward 
she said to me thus: 'My little child, I will fetch thee when the 
grain is taken from thy tongue ; be not aghast, I will not forsake 
thee.' " 



This holy monk, this abbot I mean, caught out the child's 
tongue, and took off the grain, and full softly he gave up the 
ghost. And when this abbot had beheld this wonder, his salt tears 
trickled down like rain and prone he fell all flat on the pavement, 
and lay still as he had been bound. 

The abbey-monks eke lay on the pavement weeping, and 
praised Christ's dear mother, and after that they rise and be 
gone forth and take this martyr from his bier and in a tomb 
of fair marble-stones they enclose his little sweet body. Where 
he is now God grant us that we may come. 

O young Hugh of Lincoln, slain eke by cursed Jews, as is 
well known, for it was but a little while ago, pray also for us, 
unstable, sinful folk, that of his mercy God who is so pitiful 
may multiply his great mercies upon us, for reverence of his 
mother Mary. Amen. 

Here is ended the Prioress 3 Tale. 

The Prologue 
of the Nun's Priest's Tale 

" TT O ! good sir, no more of this," quoth the Knight. "What 
ye have told us, in sooth, is enough and to spare, for 
a little of heavy cheer sufficeth for most folk, I ween. 
As for me, I say it is a great distress to hear of the sudden fall, 
alas! of them who were wont to be in great wealth and ease. 
But the contrary is joy and great delight, as when a man, who 
hath been in poor estate, climbeth up and waxeth prosperous, 
and there in prosperity abideth. Such a thing, as it seemeth 
me, is gladsome; and of such a thing it were goodly to speak." 
"Yea!" quoth our host, "by Saint Paul's bell, ye say right 
sooth ; this monk, he clappeth his tongue with a din, and speaketh 
of how 'fortune covered with a cloud' something I wot never 
what; and also ye heard but now of a 'Tragedy,' and pardee, 
no help is it for to bewail nor lament that which is done ; and eke, 
as ye have said, it is a pain to hear the heaviness. Sir Monk, 
no more of this, for the love of God; your tale annoyeth all 
of us. Such talking is not worth a butterfly, for there is no mirth 
therein, nor disport. Wherefore, Sir Monk or whatsoever your 
name be, Dan Piers I pray you heartily tell us somewhat else, 
for verily, if it were not for the clinking of the bells that hang on 
your bridle all about by the King of heaven that died for us 
all ! I should have fallen down ere this for sleep into the slough, 
however miry it were. Then had your tale been all told in vain, 
for certainly as these clerks say : 'Where a man hath no audience, 



it helpeth him naught to speak his mind.' But I wot well I 
shall know a good tale when I hear one. Sir, say somewhat of 
hunting, I pray you." 

"Nay," quoth the monk, "I list not to sport; let another tell 
a tale now, sith I have told." 

Then spake our host with his rude broad speech, and said 
unto the Nun's Priest: "Come nearer, thou priest; come hither, 
thou Sir John; tell us such a thing as may glad our hearts. 
Though thou ride on a jade, be blithe! What though thy horse 
be both foul and lank, reck not a bean, if he will serve thee. 
Whatever be, look that thy heart be merry!" 

"Yes, sir," quoth he. "Yes, host, by my spurs! In sooth, 
if I be not merry, may I be chid." And right anon he hath 
broached his tale, and thus he said unto all of us, this sweet 
priest, this goodly man, Sir John. 


The Nun's Priest's Tale 

Here beginneth the Nun's Priest's Tale of the Cock and Hen, 
Chaunticleer and Pertelote. 

A POOR widow, well on in old age, dwelt once in a small 
cottage, that stood in a dale, beside a grove. Since the 
day her goodman died, this widow of whom I tell you 
my tale, had led her simple life in patience, for her worldly 
goods were few and her winnings scant. By husbanding well 
that which God sent her she provided for herself and her two 
daughters. Three large sows she had, but no more; three kine 
and eke a sheep, named Moll. Her bower was full sooty and 
eke her hall, in which she ate full many a spare meal. Never a 
bit needed she pungent sauce; no dainty morsel passed her lips. 
Her diet was in accord with her petticoat. Repletion never made 
her to ail; a temperate diet was her only physic, save exercise 
and heart's content. The gout hindered her not from dancing; 
apoplexy weakened not her head. No wine she drank, neither 
red nor white. Her board for the most was laid with white 
and black: milk and brown bread, of which she had a plenty, 
and broiled bacon, and sometimes an egg or two; for she was as 
it were a kind of dairy woman. 

A yard she had enclosed on all sides by sticks, and a dry ditch 
without. Therein she kept a cock named Chaunticleer, whose 
like for crowing was not in all the land. His voice was merrier 



than the merry organ-pipes that play in the church o' mass- 
days, and surer his crowing on his perch than a clock, or an abbey 
horologe. He knew by nature each ascension of the equinoxial 
in those parts; for when the sun was arisen fifteen degrees, then 
he crew, that there was no gainsaying it. His comb was redder 
than fine coral, and battlemented like a castle-tower. His bill 
was black and shone like jet, like azure were his legs and his 
toes, his nails whiter than the lily-flower, and his body like 
burnished gold. 

This gentle cock had under his governance, to perform all 
his will and pleasure, seven hens, who were his sisters and para- 
mours, and in colour, wondrous like to him; of which she with 
throat of the fairest hue was named fair Demoiselle Pertelote. 
Courteous she was, debonair and discreet, and so companionable, 
and bare herself so sweetly, ever since the day that she was seven 
nights old, that truly she holdeth the heart of Chaunticleer locked 
up in every limb of her ; he loved her so, that it was heaven to him. 
Ah! but such joy as it was to hear them when the bright sun gan 
rise, singing in sweet accord, "My lief is faren in londe," for 
at that time, as I have understood, beasts and birds could sing 
and speak. 

So it befell, one dawn, as Chaunticler among his wives sat 
on his perch that was in the hall, and his fair Pertelote beside 
him, that he began to groan in his throat like one that is sore 
plagued in his dream. And when Pertelote heard him roar 
thus, she was aghast, and said: "O dear heart! what aileth you 
to groan in this manner? Ye are a pretty sleeper! Fie! for 
shame !" 

And he answered and said thus: "Madam, I pray you, that 
ye take it not amiss. God's truth, I dreamed but now I was in 



such peril that my heart even yet is sore a f card. Now may God," 
quoth he, "bring my dream to good, and keep my body out of foul 
prison! I dreamed how that I was roaming up and down in 
our yard, when I saw a beast that was like a hound, and would 
have seized upon my body, and would have killed me. His colour 
was betwixt yellow and red, and his tail was tipped and so 
were his ears with black, unlike the rest of his hide; his snout 
was pointed and his two eyes glowed. Even yet I almost die 
for dread of his look. This, it was, caused my groaning 

"Avoy!" quoth she, "fie on you, chicken-hearted! Alas!" 
quoth she, "for now, by that God in heaven, have ye lost my 
heart and all my love. IRyjmy faith r T camiot love a coward! 
For certes, whatsoever any woman may say, we all desire, if may 
be, to have husbands hardy, wise, generous, and trusty with 
secrets; yea, and no niggard, nor fool, nor him that's aghast at 
every knife, nor a boaster, by that God in heaven! How for 
shame durst ye say unto your love that anything might make 
you afraid? Have ye no man's heart and have a beard? Alas! 
how can ye be aghast at dreams? There is nothing, God wot, 
but vanity in dreams. Dreams be engendered by repletions, anch/. 
fumes, and oft of a man's temperament, when humours be too 
abundant in a wight. Certes, this dream which ye have dreamt 
cometh from the great superfluity of your red colera, which 
causeth folk in their dreams to be in terror of arrows, of fire 
with red flames, of great beasts, lest they bite them, of fighting, 
and of whelps, great and smaD; right as the humour of melan- 
choly causeth full many a man to cry out in his sleep for fear 
of black bears, or black bulls, or else lest black devils catch them. 
I could also speak of other humours, that work sore woe to many a 



man in his sleep, but I will pass on as lightly as I may. Lo! 
Cato, so wise a man as he said he not thus: 'Give no heed to 
dreams'? Now, sir," quoth she, "when we fly from these rafters, 
do, for God's love, take some laxative. On peril of my soul, with- 
out lying, I counsel you for the best, that ye purge you botH of 
choler and of melancholy, and that ye may not lose time, though 
there be no apothecary in this town, I shall myself teach you 
what herbs be for your health and weal; and in our yard I 
shall find those herbs which have such properties, by nature, as 
shall purge you well. For God's own love, forget not this, that 
ye be full choleric. So beware that the sun in its ascension find 
you not replete with hot humours ; for if it do, I dare lay a groat 
that ye shall have a tertian fever, or an ague, that may be the bane 
of you. For a day or two, ye shall eat worms as digestives, before 
ye take your laxatives, lauriol, centaury and fumitary, or else 
hellibore (which grows there) , catapuce, goat-tree berries, or herb- 
ivy, that is pleasant to take and grows in our yard. Peck them 
up just as they grow and eat them in. Think of your fore- 
fathers, husband, and be merry. Dread no dream; I can say 
no more to you." 

"Madame," quoth he, "gramercy for your lore. Natheless, 
touching Dan Cato, that hath such a renown for wisdom, though 
he bade us fear no dreams, yet by my troth, one may read in old 
books of many men of more authority, I lay my life, than ever 
Cato was who say the very contrary of his opinion, and who have 
found by experience that dreams be significant as well of the 
joys as of the tribulations which folk endure in this life. It 
needeth not to make an argument of this; experience itself 
showeth it in sooth. One of the greatest authors that men read 
saith thus: that whilom two comrades, with good intent, made 



a pilgrimage; and it so befell that they came into a town, where 
there was such a flocking together of people with such scant 
harbourage, that they found not even so much as one cottage 
where they might both be lodged. Wherefore, of necessity, they 
must part company for that night; and each of them goeth to 
his hostelry and taketh such lodging as befalleth him. One of 
them was lodged in a stall, far back in a yard, with oxen of 
the plough. The other man was well enough lodged, as was his 
chance, or fate, such as governs all of us in common. 

"And it so befell that, long ere day, this latter man, as he 
slept in his bed, dreamt how his fellow gan call upon him, and 
said: 'Alas! for here to-night I shall be murdered where I lie 
in an ox's stall. Now help me, dear brother, ere I die. In all 
haste, come to me !' he said. 

"Out of his sleep this man started for fear, but when he 
was full awake, he turned over, and gave no heed to this; his 
dream seemed to him was but a vanity. Thus twice he dreamed 
in his sleep. And at still the third time, his comrade came, as 
seemed to him, and said: 'I am now slain. Behold my bloody 
wounds deep and wide. Arise up early in the dawning, and at 
the west gate of the town thou shalt see a cart full of dung in 
which my body is privily hidden. Cause that cart boldly to be 
stopped. It was my gold caused my murder, sooth to say.' And 
he told him with a pale and piteous face in every point how he 
was slain. 

"And be sure he found his dream full true. For on the 
morrow, as soon as it was day, he went forth to his fellow's inn, 
and when he came to the stall, he began to shout for him. Anon 
the host answered him and said: 'Sir, your comrade is gone. As 
soon as it was day, he walked out of the town.' 



"This man now gan to suspect somewhat, remembering the 
dreams he had dreamt, and forth he goeth without longer tarry- 
ing to the west gate of the town, and came upon a dung-cart, 
all loaded as if to dung some land, even in the same wise as ye 
have heard the dead man describe. And with a stout heart he 
gan to cry: 'Vengeance and justice for this crime! This night 
was my comrade murdered, and lieth gaping in this cart. I 
cry out upon the officers that should keep and rule this city. 
Harrow! Alas! Here my fellow lieth slain!' 

"What more should I add unto this tale? The people haste 
out of their houses and overturn the cart; and in the midst of 
the dung they found the dead man, murdered all newly. O 
blessed God! just and true, lo! how alway thou layest murder 
bare. Murder will out; that see we daily. Murder is so loath- 
some and abominable to God, the wise and just, that he will 
not suffer it to be concealed. Though it may abide for a year, 
or two or three, yet murder will out. This is my conclusion. 

"And straightway the officers of that town have seized the 
carter and the inn-keeper, and have them so sore tormented and 
racked, that anon they acknowledged their wickedness, and were 
hanged by the neck-bone. 

"Herein men may see that dreams be worthy of dread. And 
certes, in the same book (as I hope for joy, I gab not), right 
in the next chapter after, I read thus: 'Two men who, for a 
certain cause, would cross the sea into a far country, were con- 
strained by contrary winds to tarry in a certain city, that stood 
full pleasant on a haven-shore. But on a day, toward even-tide, 
the wind gan change and blew right as they listed. Merry and 
glad they went to their rest and cast in their minds to sail full 
early. But to one of the men befell a great marvel. For one of 



them, as he lay sleeping, toward day dreamt a wonderful dream. 
It seemed to him that a man stood by his bed's side, and com- 
manded him to tarry, and said to him thus: 'If thou set forth 
to-morrow, thou shalt be drowned; my tale is at an end.' He 
awoke and told his fellow what he had dreamed, and prayed 
him to delay his voyage, or even for that day to tarry. His 
comrade, who lay by his bedside, gan to laugh and to scoff at 
him boisterously. 

* 'No dream,' quoth he, 'may so make my heart aghast that 
it shall hinder me in my business. I set not a straw by thy 
dreamings. For dreams be but vanities and trash. Daily men 
dream of owls, or of apes, and therewithal of many a strange 
marvel such things as never were, nor ever shall be. But sith 
I see that thou wilt abide here, and thus wilfully waste thy time 
in dallying, God wot, I am sorry; good day to thee.' And thus 
he took his leave and went on his way. But ere he had sailed 
half his course I wot not why, nor what misfortune ailed it the 
ship's bottom was by chance riven asunder, and ship and men 
sank under the water within sight of other ships hard by, that 
had sailed at the same time as they. 

"And therefore, fair Pertelote, dear heart, by such old 
ensamples mayst thou learn that no man should be too reckless 
of dreams, for I tell thee that many a dream is doubtless to be 
dreaded full sore. 

"Lo! I read in the life of Saint Kenelm, that was the son 
of Kenulphus, the noble king of Mercenric, how Kenelm dreamed 
a dream. On a day, a little while ere he was murdered, he saw 
his murder in a vision. His nurse expounded his dream to him 
every whit, and bade him guard him well against treason; but 
he was but seven years old, and therefore gave little heed to any 



dream, so holy was his heart. By God's truth, I would gixe my 
shirt that ye had read his legend as I have. 

"Dame Pertelote, I tell you truly, Macrobeus, that wrote 
the vision of the noble Scipio in Africa, affirmeth dreams, and 
saith that they be warnings of things that men see afterwards. 
And furthermore, I pray you look well in the Old Testament, 
whether Daniel held dreams to be any vanity. Read eke of 
Joseph, and there shall ye see whether dreams be not sometime 
(I say not alway) warnings of things that shall befall after- 
ward. Look at Dan Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, his baker 
and eke his butler, whether they felt no significance in dreams. 
Whosoever will search the chronicles of sundry kingdoms may 
read about dreams many a wondrous thing. Lo! Croesus, that 
was king of Lydia, dreamt he not that he sat upon a tree, which 
signified that he should be hanged. Lo! Andromache, the wife 
of Hector, she dreamed on the very night before, how the life 
of Hector should be lost, if he went into battle on that day. She 
warned him, but it might not avail ; he went none the less to fight. 
But he was slain anon by Achilles. 

"But that tale is all too long to tell, and eke it is nigh day; 
I may not dally. In short, I say that I shall have adversity from 
this vision, and further I say that I set no store by laxatives, 
for I wot well they be venomous. I defy them; I love them 
never a whit. Let us stint all this now and speak of mirth. 
Madame Pertelote, in one thing hath God given me largely of 
his blessing, for when I look upon the beauty of your face, ye 
be so scarlet-red about the eyes, that it maketh all my dread 
for to cease. For as sure as in principio 'Mulier est hominis con- 
fusio' my lady, this is the meaning of the Latin: 'Woman 
is man's joy and all his delight.' For at night on our narrow 



perch, when I feel your soft side, I am so full of joy and bliss, 
that I defy both dream and vision." 

With that word, he flew down from the rafter, and with a 

"chuck" gan to call them, for he had found a grain of corn 

that lay in the yard. Royal he was ; afraid no more ; he looketh 

! as it were a grim lion. Up and down he roameth upon his toes, 

1 for he deigneth not to set his foot to the ground. When he hath 

come upon a kernel, he chucketh and then to him run all his 

wives. Thus royal as a prince in his hall I leave this Chaunticleer 

in his feeding-ground, and hereafter I will tell what befell 


When the month in which the world began the month called 
March in which God created Adam was completed, and when 
there had passed also, since March began, two and thirty days, 
it befell that Chaunticleer, walking in all his pride with his 
seven wives, cast up his eyes to the bright sun, that had voyaged 
in the sign of Taurus one and twenty degrees and somewhat 
farther, and knew by no other lore than nature that it was prime 
of day, and crew with blissful voice. 

"The sun," he said, "is clomb up on heaven one and forty 
degrees and more in sooth. Madame Pertelote, bliss of my world, 
hark to these blissful birds how they sing, and see the fresh flowers 
how they spring. Full is my heart of revelry and delight." 

But suddenly a sorrowful chance befell him, for the latter 
end of joy ever is woe. God wot, in this world, joy is soon passed 
away; and the fairest-enditing rhetorician might safely write it 
down in a chronicle for a sovereignly notable thing. Now every 
wise man let him hearken to me. This story, I vow, is as true as 
the book of Launcelot de Lake, which women hold in great 
reverence. Now will I turn again to my matter. 



A fox, that had dwelt three years in the grove, full of 
sly iniquity, and fore-guided by lofty imagination, that same 
night burst through the hedges into the yard, where Chaunticleer, 
the splendid, was wont to repair with his wives, and in a bed of 
herbs he lay still, till it was past undern, biding his time to 
fall upon Chaunticleer, as all these homicides will do, that lie 
in wait to murder men. 

O, false murderer, lurking in thy lair! O second Iscariot! 
Second Genilon! False dissimulator! O thou Greek Sinon, that 
broughtest Troy utterly to sorrow! O Chaunticleer, cursed be 
that morn that thou flewest from thy perch into that yard ! Full 
well wast thou warned by thy dreams how that day should be 
perilous to thee. But what God foreknows must needs come to 
pass according to the opinion of certain clerks. I take any per- 
fect clerk to witness, that there is great altercation in the schools 
concerning this matter, yea, great disputation hath there been 
by an hundred thousand men. But I cannot bolt it to the bran, as 
can the holy doctor Augustine, or Boethius, or Bradwardine the 
bishop. Whether God's glorious foreknowing constraineth me 
of necessity to do a thing (necessity, I construe as absolute 
necessity) , or whether free choice be granted me either to do that 
same thing or to do it not, in spite of God's fore-knowledge of 
it ere it was done; or whether his knowing constraineth only by 
conditional necessity; with such matters I will not have to do. 
My tale, as ye may hear, is of a cock that took the counsel of 
his wife sorrow befall her! to walk in the yard, upon that 
morrow when he had dreamed the dream which I described to 

Full oft be women's counsels cold. Woman's counsel brought 
us firstjsi-woer and made Adam to depart from Paradise, where 



he was full merry and well at ease. Yet sith I wot not whom I 
might offend if I should blame the counsel of women, pass on, 
for I said it in my sport. Read authors, where they treat of 
such matters, and ye may learn what they say of women. These 
be the cock's words; not mine. I can imagine no harm of any 

Fair in the sand lieth Pertelote, bathing her merrily and all 
her sisters nigh her in the sunshine ; and Chaunticleer, the noble, 
sang merrier than the mermaid in the sea; for Phisiologus saith 
in all sooth how they sing well and merrily. And it so befell, as 
he cast his glance among the herbs upon a butterfly, that he 
was ware of this fox, that lay full low. No lust had he then to 
crow but straightway cried "Cok! Cok!" and up he started as 
one that is afraid in his heart. For by nature a beast desireth 
to flee from his born foe, if he see it, even though he hath never 
before cast his eye upon it. 

This Chaunticleer, when he espied him, would have fled, but 
that straightway the fox said: "Gentle sir, alas! where will 
ye go? Be ye afraid of me? Me, that am your friend? Certes, 
now, I were worse than a devil, if I would do you harm or 
discourtesy. I am not come to spy on your privacy, but truly 
the cause of my approach was only to hearken how ye sing. For 
truly ye have as merry a voice as hath any angel that is in heaven ; 
and eke ye have more feeling in music than had Boece, or any 
wight that can sing. My lord, your father (God bless his soul!) , 
and eke your mother, of her courtesy, have been in my house- 
to my great ease. And certes, full fain would I do you a pleas- 
ure, sir. But I will say, sith we speak of singing, may I be blind 
if I ever heard, save you, a man so sing as did your father in 
the morn. Certes, it was from the heart all that he sung; and 



for to make his voice the stronger, he would take such pains 
that he must needs shut both eyes, so loud would he cry, and there- 
withal stand on his tiptoes and stretch forth his neck long and 
slim. And he was of such discretion eke that there was no man 
in any land that could pass him in song or wisdom. I have read 
indeed in the book of Dan Burnel, the Ass, how on a time there 
was a cock that, because a priest's son banged him on the leg, 
while he was young and foolish, made him to lose his benefice. 
But certainly there is no comparison betwixt his subtlety and 
the discreet wisdom of your father. Now, for Saint Charity! 
sing, sir. Let see, can ye counterfeit your father?" 

This Chaunticleer gan beat his wings, as one that could not 
discern the fox's treason, so ravished he was by his flattery. 

Alas! ye lords; many a false flatterer is in your courts and 
many a dissimulator that, by my faith, pleaseth you far more 
than he that saith soothfastness unto you. Read of flattery in 
Ecclesiasticus, and beware, ye lords, of her treachery. 

This Chaunticleer stood up high on his toes, stretching his 
neck, and held his eyes shut, and gan to crow loud for the nonce ; 
and straightway Dan Russell, the fox, started up, and snatched 
Chaunticleer by the gorge, and bare him on his back away toward 
the wood, for as yet there was none that pursued him. 

O destiny, that mayst not be shunned! Alas! that Chaunti- 
cleer flew from his perch. Alas! that his wife recked not for 
dreams! And on a Friday befell all this mischance. 

O Venus, goddess of pleasure, sith this Chaunticleer was 
thy servant, and performed his utmost power in thy service, more 
for delight than to multiply this world, why wouldst thou suffer 
him to die on thy day? O Gaufred, dear sovereign master that, 
when thy worthy King Richard was slain with shot, mournedst 



his death so sore, why have not I thine eloquence and learning 
to chide Friday, as ye did? (For in sooth on a Friday thy king 
was slain.) Then would I show you how I could lament for 
Chaunticleer's need and torment. 

Certes, such cry, or lamentation, was never made by ladies, 
when Ilium was won, and Pyrrhus, with his sword drawn, had 
seized King Priam by the beard and slain him (as the ^Eneid 
telleth us), as made all the hens in the close when they had 
seen the sight of Chaunticleer. But most of all shrieked dame 
Pertelote far louder than Hasdrubal's wife, when her husband 
had been slain and the Romans had burned Carthage; she was 
so full of torment and madness, that, of her own will, she leapt 
into the fire, and burned herself with a steadfast heart. 

O woful hens! even so ye cried as cried the wives of the 
Senators, because their husbands had perished, when Nero burned 
the city of Rome; without guilt, this Nero hath slain them. 

Now will I turn once more to my tale. This simple widow 
and eke her two daughters heard these hens cry and make woe, 
and anon they started out of doors and saw how the fox went 
toward the grove and on his back bare away the cock ; and cried : 
"Out! Harrow! Weylaway! Ha! ha! the fox!" and after him 
they ran, and eke many other folk with staves. 

Ran Colle, our dog, and Gerland and Talbot and Malkin, 
with a distaff in her hand ; ran cow and calf and eke the very hogs, 
so frightened were they by the dogs' barking and the shouting of 
the men and women. They ran so that it seemed their hearts 
would crack; they yelled as do the fiends in hell. The ducks 
cackled as if men were killing them ; the geese flew over the tree- 
tops for fear; out of the hive came the swarm of bees. So 
hideous was the noise ah! benedicite! certes, even Jack Straw 



and his rabble never make shouts half so shrill when they would 
slay any Fleming, as were made that day after the fox. 
Trumpets they brought of brass, of box-wood, of horn and of 
bone, in which they bellowed and blew, and therewithal so 
shrieked and whooped, that it seemed heaven would come down. 
Now, good men, I pray you all hearken! 

Lo! how fortune suddenly overturneth the hope and eke the \ 
pride of her enemy! This cock that lay, in all his fright, upon the 
fox's back, he spake unto the fox and said: "Sir, if I were 
as ye, so help me God, but I should say: 'Turn back, all ye proud 
churls ! A very pestilence fall upon you ! Now that I am come 
unto the wood's edge, the cock shall abide here, maugre your 
heads. In faith, I will eat him and that anon!" The fox 
answered : "In faith it shall be done." And as he spake that word, 
suddenly the cock brake nimbly from his mouth, and straightway 
flew high upon a tree. And when the fox saw that he was gone, 
"Alas!" quoth he, "O Chaunticleer ! Alas! I have done you 
wrong inasmuch as I frightened you when I seized and brought 
you out of the yard. But, sir, I did it with no wicked design. 
Come down, and I shall tell you what I meant. I shall say 
you sooth, so help me God!" 

"Nay, then," quoth he, "I beshrew both of us, and first I 
beshrew myself, both bones and blood, if thou beguile me more 
oft than once. Thou shalt no more by thy flattery make me to 
sing and close mine eyes; for he that is wilfully blind when he 
should see, God let him never thrive!" 

"Nay," quoth the fox, "but God give him mischance, that is 
so indiscreet that he babbleth when he should hold his peace." 

Lo! such it is to be reckless and negligent and trust to flattery. 
But ye that hold this tale to be a foolish story as of a fox and 



a cock and hen, take the moral, good folk. For Saint Paul saith 
that all which is written, in sooth, is writ for our instruction. 
Take the fruit and let the chaff be. Now, good God, if it be thy 
will, as my lord archbishop saith, then make us all good people 
and bring us to thy heavenly bliss. Amen. 

Here is ended the Nun's Priest's Tale. 


Epilogue to the Nun's Priest's Tale 

"Sir Nun's Priest," said our host anon, "blessed be thy 
breech! This was a merry tale of Chaunticleer. But if thou 
were secular, by my truth, thou wouldst be a lusty fellow 
with the dames. See what brawn hath this gentle priest, so great 
a neck and such a broad breast! He glanceth with his eyes like 
a sparrow-hawk. He needeth not to dye his colour with brasil, 
nor with dye of Portugal. Now, sir, fair befall you for your 

And after that, with a look full merry, he said to another 
as ye shall hear. 


The Physician's Tale 

Here followeth the Physician's Tale. 

THERE was once, as Titus Livius telleth, a knight called 
' i ---- .....c.. o 

Virginius, full of honour and worthiness, strong in his 

friends and of great wealth. This knight had by hisjwif e 
ajdaughter ; no children more had he in all his days. In excellent 
beauty, this maid was fair above every wight that men may 
see; for Nature with sovereign care hath formed her in so great 
excellence as though she would say: "Lo! I, Nature, thus can 
I form and paint a breathing being when I list ; who can imitate 
me? Not Pygmalion, though aye he forge and beat, or grave, 
or paint; for I dare well say that Apelles and Zeuxis should 
work in vain if they presumed to imitate me by graving or 
painting or forging or beating. For he that is the chief Creator 
hath made me his vicar-general to form and paint earthly crea- 
tures even as I list, and each thing under the moon that waxeth 
and waneth is in my care, and for my work I will ask nothing; 
my lord and I be fully of one accord. For the worship of my 
sovereign I made her; so do I all my other creatures, whatsoever 
colour or shape they have." Thus it seemeth me Nature would 

This maid was two and twelve years of age, in whom Nature 
had such joy. For as she can paint a lily white and a rose red 
even with such art she hath painted this noble creature ere she 
was born, upon her noble limbs, where by right such colours 



should be; and Phoebus hath dyed her thick tresses like to the 
streams of his lustrous heat. And if her beauty was excellent 
she was a thousand-fold more virtuous. She lacked no quality 
that discernment may praise ; as well in spirit as in body she was 
chaste ; wherefore she flowered in virginity with all humility and 
abstinence, with all temperance and patience, and eke sobriety 
of bearing and garb. In answering she was alway discreet, 
though she might be as wise as Pallas, I dare say. Her faculty 
of speech was full womanly and plain; she had no counterfeited 
terms, to seem wise, but she spake after her station, and all her 
words, both more and less, were full of virtue and of nobility. 
Shamefast she was in the shamefastness of a maiden, constant 
in heart and ever busy to drive out sluggard idleness. Of her 
mouth Bacchus had no mastery; for wine and youth cause Venus 
increase, even as men will cast oil into fire. And of her own 
free will and virtue, she hath full oft feigned her sick because 
she would flee the company where folly was like to be treated 
of, as at feasts, dances and revels, that be the occasions of 
dalliance. Such things, as men may see, make children too soon 
ripe and bold, which is full perilous and hath ever been. For 
all too soon she may learn lore of boldness, when she is waxed a 

And ye mistresses in your old age that have lords' daughters 
in governance, take no displeasure of my words. Think that ye be 
set to govern the daughters of lords only for two things: either 
for ye have kept your virtue, or else ye have fallen into frailty and 
know well enough the old dance and have fully forsaken such mis- 
conduct forevermore. Therefore, for Christ's sake, look that 
ye be not slack to teach them virtue. A thief of venison that hath 
given over his appetite and all his old craft, can keep a forest 



best of all men. Keep them well now, for if ye will, ye can. 
Look well that ye give assent unto no vice, lest ye be damned 
for your wicked mind, for whosoever doth, in sooth, is a traitor. 
And pay heed to that I shall say: of all treasons the sovereign 
plague is when a wight betrayeth innocence. Ye fathers and 
eke ye mothers, that have children, be it one or two, yours is all 
the charge to watch over them while they be under your gover- 
nance. Beware, by the ensample of your living or by your 
neglect of chastisement, that they perish not; for I dare well 
say that if they do, ye shall rue it dearly. Under a soft and 
negligent shepherd, the wolf hath torn in pieces many a sheep 
and lamb. One ensample sufficeth now, for I must turn again 
to my matter. 

This maid, of whom I will tell this tale, so kept herself that 
she needed no mistress. For in her living, as in a book, maidens 
might read every good word or act that belongeth to a virtuous 
maid; she was so prudent and so kind. Wherefore the fame 
sprang out far on every side both of her beauty and her good- 
ness; that throughout that land everyone praised her that loved 
virtue, save envy alone that is sorry for the weal of another 
man, and glad of his sorrow and his misfortune. (The doctor, 
Saint Augustine, maketh this description of envy.) This maid 
on a day went to a temple with her dear mother, as is the wont 
of young maidens. 

Now there was a justice then in that town that was governor 
of that country. And so befell this judge cast his eyes upon 
this maid, considering her full closely as she came past where he 
was. Straightway his heart changed and his mood, he was so 
caught with the beauty of this maiden, and full privily he said 
to himself, "This maid shall be mine in spite of any man." 



Anon the fiend glided suddenly into his heart and taught him 
that he might by craft win the maiden to his purpose. For certes, 
it seemed to him, that by no force nor suborning could he speed. 
For she was strong of friends and eke she was confirmed in 
such sovereign goodness that he knew well he might never so 
achieve as to make her sin with her body. Wherefore, upon 
great deliberation, he sent for a churl in that town whom he 
knew for a fellow subtle and bold. This judge hath said his 
say to this churl in secret wise, and made him swear he should 
tell it to no creature, and if he did he should lose his head. 
When this cursed plan was assented to, glad was this judge 
and made him great cheer, and gave him gifts precious and fine. 
When all this plot was shapen, from point to point, how that his 
lechery should be performed full subtly, as ye shall afterwards 
openly hear, home goeth the churl, that was named Claudius. 
This false judge called Apius (so was he named, for this is 
no fable, but known for a notable historical thing; the substance 
of it is sooth, out of doubt) , this false judge now goeth about to 
hasten his delight all that he may. And so it befell soon after, 
as the book telleth us, that this false judge sat in his consistory, 
as he was wont, and gave his judgments on sundry cases. This 
false churl came forth in full great haste and said, "Lord, if it 
be your will, do me justice upon this rueful petition, in which I 
make complaint against Virginius, and if he will say that it 
is not so, I will prove it, and find good witness that what my bill 
declare th is sooth." 

The judge answered, "Of this I may not in his absence give 
final judgment. Let him be called and I will gladly listen. Thou 
shalt have right and no wrong here." 

Virginius came, that he might know the judge's will, and 



straightway this cursed petition was read; the sense of it was as 
ye shall hear. 

"To you, my lord, Sir Apius, sheweth your poor servant 
Claudius how a knight called Virginius, against the law and all 
equity, holdeth expressly against my will my servant, by law my 
thrall, that was stolen from my house by night while she was 
full young; this will I prove by witness, lord, so it offend you 
not. She is not his daughter, whatsoever he saith. Wherefore 
I pray to you, my lord judge, yield me my thrall, if it be 
your will.'* Lo ! this was the sense of his petition. 

Virginius gan look on the churl, but hastily ere he told his 
tale and would have proved as a knight should, and eke by 
many a witness, that what his accuser had said was false, this 
cursed judge would tarry no whit nor hear a word from Vir- 
ginius, but gave his judgment and said, "I decree that straight- 
way this churl have his servant ; thou shalt keep her in thy house 
no longer. Go bring her forth and put her here in our charge. 
The churl shall have his thrall; this I award him." 

When Virginius, this worthy knight, by the sentence of this 
justice, must needs give his dear daughter unto the judge to live 
in lechery, he goeth home and sitteth him in his hall and straight- 
way letteth his dear daughter be summoned, and with a face 
dead as cold ashes he gan gaze upon her humble face with a 
father's pity sticking through his heart, albeit he would not 
swerve from his purpose. 

"Daughter," quoth he, "Virginia, there be two ways, either 
death or shame, that thou must suffer. Alas! that I was born! 
For never thou deservedst to die with a sword. O dear daughter, 
ender of my life, whom I have fostered up with such gladness 
that thou wert never out of my remembrance ! O daughter, that 



art my last woe, and eke in my life my last joy, O gem of chastity, 
take thou in patience thy death, for this is my judgment. For 
love and not for hate, thou must die. My wretched hand must 
smite off thy head. Alas! that ever Apius saw thee. Thus hath 
he falsely judged thee to-day," and told her all the case as ye 
have already heard; it needeth not to tell it more. 

"O mercy, dear father," quoth this maid, and with that word 
she laid both her arms about his neck, as she wont to do. 
The tears burst from her eyes and she said, "Good father, shall 
I die ? Is there no grace ? Is there no help ?" 

"No, certes, my dear daughter," quoth he. "Then give me 
leisure, father mine, a little while to lament my death, for Jepthah, 
pardee, gave his daughter grace to lament, ere he slew her, alas! 
And God wot it was nothing her fault, but because she ran first 
to greet her father to welcome him with festivity." And with 
that word straightway she fell swooning, and after her swoon- 
ing had left her, she riseth up and saith to her father, "Blessed 
be God, I shall die a maiden. Give me my death ere I have shame. 
Do your will with your child, for God's sake." And with that 
she besought him many times that with his sword he would smite 
softly, and thereupon she fell down in a swoon. With full 
sorrowful heart and will, her father smote off her head, and 
took it by the top and gan present it to the judge as he sat yet 
judging in consistory. And when the judge saw it, as saith 
the book, he bade men take him and hang him at once. But 
straightway a thousand people thronged in to save the knight 
for ruth and compassion, for the false iniquity was known. 
The people hath straightway suspected, from the manner of 
the churl's challenge, that this thing was by Apius' consent. 
They wist well that he was lustful. For which they went 



unto him and anon cast him in a prison, where he slew 
himself. And Claudius, his servant, was doomed to hang 
on a tree; but that Virginius, of his pity, so prayed for him 
that he was exiled; else certes, he had been destroyed. The rem- 
nant, high and low, were hanged, that were privy to this cursed- 
ness. Here many men see how sin hath its deserts ! Beware, for 
no man knoweth whom God will smite, nor in what wise the worm 
of conscience may writhe within a man, though his wicked life 
be so privy that no man knoweth thereof but God and him. For 
be he a man simple or learned, he wot not how soon he shall 
be afeard. Therefore I rede you take this counsel: forsake 
sin ere sin forsake you. 

Here endeih the Physicians Tale. 


Words of the Host 

The words of the Host to the Physician and the Pardoner. 

OUR host gan swear as he were mad. "Harrow! by nails 
and by blood!" quoth he, "this was a false churl and a 
false justice! As shameful death as heart may conceive 
come upon these judges and their advocates. Natheless this poor 
maid is slain, alas ! Too dear she bought her beauty ! Wherefore 
I say that alway, as men may witness, the gifts of fortune or 
nature be cause of death to many a wight. Verily her beauty was 
her death. Alas! so pitifully as she was slain! Of both these 
gifts that I speak of, men have full oft more harm than profit. 
But truly, my own master dear, this is a piteous tale for to 
hearken to. But natheless, pass over, it is no matter. I pray 
to God save thy gentle corse, and thy Galens and eke thine 
Hippocrates, and every box full of thine electuary. God and 
our Lady bless them ! Thou art a proper man, as I live, and like 
a prelate, by Saint Ronyan! Said I not well? I cannot speak 
in clerkly terms, but I wot well thou makest me so to grieve 
that I almost have caught a spasm about my heart. By Corpus 
bones! unless I have physic or a draught of musty and corny 
ale, or else hear anon a merry story, my heart is broken for pity 
of this maid. Thou bel amy, thou Pardoner, tell us straight- 
way some mirth or jests." 

"It shall be done!" quoth he, "by Saint Ronyan. But first 
here at this ale-stake," quoth he, "I will drink and eat of a loaf." 



But straightway these gentles gan exclaim, "Nay! let him tell 
us no ribaldry. Tell us some moral thing that we may learn 
some wisdom, and then we will gladly hear." "I agree, sure," 
quoth he, "but I must ponder on some virtuous thing while I 


Here folio weth the Prologue of the 
Pardoner's Tale 

Radix malorum est cupiditas: Ad Thimotheum, Sexto. 


ORDINGS," quoth he, "when I preach in churches I 
take pains to have a stately utterance, and ring it out 
roundly as a bell, for all that I say I know by heart. 
My theme is alway the same 'Radix malorum est cupiditas.' '\*~< 

"First I announce whence I come, and then I show my bulls, 
one and all. First I show our liege lord's seal on my patent, to 
protect my body, that no man, neither priest nor clerk, may be 
so bold as to disturb me in Christ's holy labours; and then after 
that I say my say; I show bulls of popes and cardinals, of 
patriarchs and bishops; and I speak a few words in Latin to 
colour my preaching and to stir men to devotion. Then I show 
forth my long crystal boxes crammed full of clouts and bones; 
they be relics, as each man weeneth. Then I have in latten a 
shoulder-bone which came from an holy Jew's sheep. 'Good 
men/ say I, 'pay heed to my words ! If this bone be washed in 
any well, and cow or calf or sheep or ox be swollen of any worm 
or worm's sting, take water of that well and wash his tongue, 
and anon he is sound; and eke of pox and of scab and every 
sore shall every sheep be cured that drinketh a draught of this 
well; pay heed to what I say. If the goodman that owneth the 
beasts will every week, fasting, ere the cock croweth, drink a 
draught of this well as that holy Jew taught our elders, his beasts 
and his stock shall multiply. And, sirs, jealousy also it healeth. 



For though a man be fallen into a jealous fit, let his pottage 
be made with this water and never shall he mistrust his wife 
more, though he knew the sooth of her fault, even had she taken 
two or three priests. Here ye may see a mitten eke; he that 
will put his hand in this mitten shall have multiplying of his 
grain when he hath sown, be it wheat or barley, if so be he offer 
pence, or else groats. Good men and women, one thing I warn 
you. If any wight be now in this church that hath done horrible 
sin, that he dare not for shame be shriven of it, or any woman, 
be she old or young, that hath hoodwinked her husband, such 
folk shall have no power nor grace to offer for my relics here. 
And whosoever findeth himself free from such fault let him come 
and offer in God's name, and I will assoil him by the authority 
which was granted me by bull.' 

"By this trick I have won an hundred mark year by year, 
since I was a pardoner. I stand like a clerk in my pulpit, and 
when the lay people be set down, I preach as ye have heard and 
tell an hundred more falsp fWiitg. Then briskly I stretch forth 
my neck, and east and west I nod upon the people, like a. dove 
sitting.. on a barn. My hands and my tongue go so nimbly that 
it is joy to see my diligence. My preaching is all of avaricfijmd 
such cursedness, to make them generous to give their pence,, 
and especially to me. For my purpose is naught but gain, and 
not a whit correction of sin. I reck never, when they be in 
their graves, though their souls go a-blackberrying ! For certes 
many a preaching cometh full oft of evil intention: one 
man to please folk and flatter them, to be advanced by hypoc- 
risy, one for vain glory and another for hate. For when I dare 
quarrel with a man in none other wise, then will I sting him 
with my bitter tongue in preaching, so that he shall not escape 



being falsely defamed, if he hath trespassed to me or my brethren. 
For though I tell not his own name, men shall know well who is 
the man by signs and other circumstances. Thus I quit folk 
that do us displeasure. Thus I spit out my venom under colour 
of holiness, to seem holy and true. 

"But I will shortly describe my purpose. I preach of nothing 
but covetousness. Therefore my theme ever was and yet 
is, Radix malorum est cupiditas. Thus I can preach against 
that same sin which I practise, and that is avarice. Though 
of that sin myself be guilty, yet I can make other folk to cast 
off avarice, and sore to repent; but that is not my principal aim; 
I preach nothing but for covetousness. That ought to suffice 
of this matter. 

"Then I tell them many an ensample from old stories, of long 
time ago. For simple people love old tales. Such things they 
can well report and remember. What? trow ye whiles I preach 
and win gold and silver by my words, that I will live wilfully in 
poverty? Nay, nay, truly I thought of it never. For I will 
preach in sundry regions and beg. I will do no labour with my 
hands, nor make baskets and live thereby, because I would not 
idly beg. I will follow none of the apostles ; I will have money, 
wool, wheat and cheese, although the poorest lad give it, or the 
poorest widow in a village, though her children die for famine. 
Nay, I will drink liquor of the grape and in every town have 
a jolly wench. But hark, lordings, in conclusion, your will is that 
I tell some story. Now that I have drunk a draught of corny 
Jlki by God's light, I hope I ^hall tell you somewhat that shall 
by reason be to your liking. For though I myself be a full 
vicious man, yet I can tell you a moral tale, which I am wont 
to preach for gain. Hold your peace now. I will begin my tale." 



The Pardoner's Tale 

WHILOM in Flanders there was a company of young 
folk, that amidst riot and gambling gave themselves 
up to folly in the stews and taverns, where to harps, 
lutes and citterns day and night they danced and played at 
dice, and therewithal ate and drank to sad excess. In this cursed 
wise with abominable debauchery did they sacrifice to the devil 
in his temple, and made use of oaths so huge and damnable 
that it was grisly to hear them swear. Our Lord's blessed body 
they dismembered as though they thought the Jews had rended 
him not enough, and each laughed at the sins of the others. And 
right anon come girl-tumblers slender and comely, young wenches 
selling fruit, singers with harps, bawds and wafer-sellers, which 
be the very devil's officers for kindling and blowing the fire of 

luxury, which is next door to gluttony. For I take the holy 

writ to my witness that in wine and drunkenness is lust. 

Lo! drunken Lot! Lo! Herod (whosoever will observe the 
story), when he was replete of wine at his feast, gave command 
right at his own table that the Baptist John, full guiltless, be 
slain. Seneca saith eke a good word; he saith he can see no differ- 
ence betwixt a man that is out of his mind and a man that is 
drunk, save that madness in a rogue persevereth longer than doth 
drunkenness. O cursed gluttony! O first cause of our fall! O 
origin of our damnation, till Christ redeemed us with his blood. 
Lo ! to speak short, how dearly bought was that cursed sin. For 
the sake of gluttony all this world was corrupt. Adam our 
father and eke his wife, there is no doubt, were for that sin 



driven from Paradise to labour and to woe; for while Adam 
fasted, as I have read, he was in Paradise; and when he ate the 
forbidden fruit of the tree, he was straightway cast out to woe 
and suffering. O gluttony, well ought we to complain of thee ! 
Oh, if a man wist how many maladies follow from gluttonous 
excess, sitting at his table, he would be the more temperate of 
his diet. Alas! short throat and delicate mouth causeth east 
and west and south and north, in earth, in air, in water that 
men must grunt and sweat to get dainty meat and drink for a 
glutton ! Well canst thou treat, O Paul, of this matter. "Meat 
unto belly and belly unto meat; God shall destroy both," as 
saith Paulus. 

Alas! by my fay, it is a foul thing to speak this word and 
the act is fouler, when a man so drinketh of the white and red 
that of his throat he maketh a sewer through that cursed -super- 
fluity. The apostle, full sorrowful, saith, weeping, "There walk 
many of which I have told you, I say it now weeping with 
piteous voice, of which, sith they be enemies of the cross of Christ, 
the end is death; belly is their god." O paunch! O belly! O 
vile sack! how great labour and cost is it to provide for thee! 
These cooks, how they stamp and strain and grind and turn 
substance into accident to fulfil all thy luxurious desire. Out 
of hard bones they knock the marrow, for they cast naught away 
that may go through the gullet soft and sweet. For the glutton's 
pleasure, his sauce shall be made of spicery, of leaf and bark 
and root to whet him a new appetite. But certes he that resorteth 
to such delights is dead while he liveth in those vices. 

A lustful thing is wine, and drunkenness is full of striving 
and misery. O drunken man, disfigured is thy countenance, sour 
is thy breath, foul art thou to embrace, and the sound through 



thy drunken nose seemeth as though thou aye saidest, "Sam- 
soun, Samsoun," and yet Samson, God wot, drank never wine. 
Thou f allest as it were a stuck hog. Thy tongue is lost and 
all thy heed of honour, for drunkenness is the very sepulchre 
of man's discretion and wit. He in whom drink hath domination 
in very truth can keep no counsel. Now keep you from the white 
and the red, especially from the white wine of Lepe, that is 
for sale in Cheapside or Fish Street. This wine of Spain creepeth 
subtly into other wines growing near, of which such fumosity 
ariseth that when a man hath drunken three draughts and weeneth 
he be at home in Cheapside, he is in Spain, not at Rochelle or at 
Bordeaux, but right at the town of Lepe, and then he will say, 
"Samsoun, Samsoun." 

But, lordings, I beseech you hearken one word, that all of 
the sovereign acts of victory in the Old Testament I dare say 
were done through God himself, tfrat is all-powerful, in absti- 
nence and prayer. Look in the Bible and there ye may learn it. 
Lo! Attila, the great conqueror, died shamefully in his sleep, 
bleeding aye at his nose in drunkenness. A captain should live 
soberly. And more than this, consider with diligence what was 
commanded to Lamuel not Samuel, I say, but Lamuel; read 
the Bible and find it expressly set down concerning wine-giving 
to them that have the administering of justice. No more of this, 
for it is sufficient. 

And now that I have spoken of gluttony, I will forbid you 
hazardry. Hazard is the very mother of lies and deceit and 
cursed f orswearings, blasphemy of Christ, manslaughter and also 
waste of wealth and of time; and furthermore it is a reproach 
and dishonourable to be held a common gambler. And ever 
the higher he is of estate the more abandoned do men deem him. 



If a prince pursueth hazardry, he is by common judgment held 
the less in reputation in any matter of policy or governance. 
Stilbon, a wise embassador, was sent in great pomp to Corinth 
from Lacedsemon to make an alliance with them. And when 
he came, it happened that he found all the greatest of that land 
playing at hazard. For which, as soon as might be, he stole 
home again to his own land and said, "There I will not lose 
my name, nor will I take upon me dishonour so great as to ally 
you unto gamblers. Send other wise embassadors, for by my 
truth I would liefer be dead than ally you with gamblers, for 
with such ye, that be so glorious in honour, shall not ally you, 
by my will or treaty." Thus said this wise philosopher. Witness 
eke, as the book saith, on the king of Parthia that sent in scorn 
to the king Demetrius a pair of golden dice, for before that he 
had practised hazard, and for the sake of it he held his glory or 
fame at no value or estimation. Lords may find other honour- 
able kinds of pastime enow to drive time away. 

Now I will speak a word or two of false and great oaths, 
as old books discourse on them. Great swearing is an abominable 
thing, and false swearing is yet more blameworthy. The high 
God forbade swearing at all; witness on Matthew, but in especial 

rthe holy Jeremy saith of swearing, "Thou shalt say thine oaths 
sooth and not lie, and swear in judgment and eke in righteous- 
ness." But idle swearing is cursed sin. Behold in the first table 
of high God's glorious commandments how his second behest is 
this: "Take not my name in vain." Lo! he forbiddeth such 
swearing earlier than homicide or than many a cursed thing. 
I say that in order it standeth thus; this know they that know 
his behests, how that this is the second behest of God. And 
furthermore I will tell thee flat that vengeance shall not depart 



from the house of him that is too outrageous of his oaths. "By 
God's precious heart and cross, by the blood of Christ that is 
in the abbey at Hailes, seven is my chance, thine is cinque and 
trey! By God's arms, if thou play falsely this dagger shall go 
through thy heart." This is the fruit that cometh of the two 
spotted dice-bones : ire, forswearing, homicide, falseness. Now 
for~Ibve~of Christ that died for us, leave your oaths, both small 
and great. But now, sirs, I will tell forth my tale. 

These three revellers of whom I speak, long ere any bell had 
rung for prime, had set them down to their cups in a tavern; 
and as they sat, they heard a bell clink before a corpse that was 
being carried to his grave. Thereat one of them gan call to the 
inn-boy, "Off with thee," quoth he, "and ask what corpse this is 
that passes by; and look thou report his name aright." 

"Sir," quoth this boy, "it needeth never a whit to ask. It 
was told me two hours ere ye came here. Pardee, he was an old 
fellow of yours; and he was slain to-night of a sudden, dead 
drunk, as he sat on a bench. There came a stealthy thief men 
call him Death that slayeth all the people in this countryside, 
and he smote him with his spear through the heart, and went his 
way without more words. He hath slain, in this pestilence, a 
thousand; and master, ere ye come before him, methinketh it 
were needful for to beware of such an adversary. 'Be ready 
for to meet him ever and aye.' Thus my dame taught me; I 
say no more." 

"By Saint Marie!" said the tavern-keeper, "the child saith 
sooth, for he hath slain this year, a mile hence in a great village, 
both man and woman, child, page and hind. I trow his habita- 
tion be there. To be wary were great wisdom in a man, lest this 
Death do him a dishonour." 



"Yea, God's arms!" quoth the reveller, "is it then such peril 
for to meet him? I make a-vow to God's noble bones, I shall 
seek him highway and by-way. Hark, fellows; we three be of 
one mind. Let each of us hold up his hand and let us become ^ 
sworn brethren among ourselves and we will slay this false 
traitor Death. He that slayeth so many by God's dignity! 
* he shall be slain, ere it be night." 

So together these three have plighted their troths to live 
and die for one another like brethren born, and in this rage, 
up they start all drunk, and forth they go toward that village 
of which the tavern-keeper had spoken, and with many a grisly 
oath have they rended Christ's blessed body, and sworn that 
Death shall be dead, if they may catch him. 

When now they had gone half a mile or less, there met with 
them right as they were about to step over a stile an old poor 
man. This old man greeted them full meekly and said thus: 
"Now, lords, God you save." The proudest of these three rev- 
ellers answered, "What, churl! The devil take thee! Why art 
thou all muffled save thy face? Why livest thou so long in great 

The old man looked him in the face and said thus : "Because 
I cannot find a man, yea though I walked to India, neither in 
town nor in city, that would exchange his youth for mine age. 
And therefore I must still keep mine age, for as long time as 
it is God's will. Neither will Death alas! neither will he have my 
life. Thus walk I like a restless caitiff ; and on the ground, which 
is my mother's gate, both morn and eve I knock with my staff, 
and say: 'Dear mother, let me in! See how I wither, flesh and 
skin and blood. Alas ! when shall my bones be at peace? Mother, 
I would exchange my chest with you, that hath been in my cham- 



ber long time; yea, even for a shroud of hair-cloth to wrap 
me.' Yet she will not do me that favour; wherefore my face is 
so pale and withered. But, sirs, it is not courtesy in you to speak 
in churlish wise to an old man, unless he have trespassed in word 
or act. Ye may yourselves read in holy writ: 'In presence of an 
old man, whose head is hoar, ye shall arise.' Wherefore I counsel 
you do unto an old man no harm now more than ye would that 
men did to you in your old age, if ye tarry so long in this 
life. God be with you, whether ye walk or ride. Now must I 
go whither I have to go." 

"Nay, old churl, that shalt thou not, by God!" answered 
then the second gambler. "By Saint John! thou partest not 
so lightly. Thou spakest right now of that traitor Death, that 
slayeth all our friends in these parts. By my troth, as thou art 
his spy, tell us where he is, or thou shalt rue it, by God and the 
holy sacrament! For soothly thou art leagued with him to slay 
us young folk, thou false thief." 

"Now, sirs," quoth he, "if you would so fain find Death, 
turn up this crooked path, for by my fay I left him in yonder 
grove under a tree and there he will tarry; nay, not even for 
your boast will he hide himself. See ye that oak? Right there 
ye shall find him. God, that redeemed mankind, save you and 
amend you!" 

Thus spake this old man. And all the revellers Jiasted till 
they came to that tree and there they found coined in fine round 
gold well nigh an eight bushel, as seemed to them, of florins. No 
longer then they sought after Death, for the florins were so bright 
and fair to see, and each was so glad of the sight, that down they 
sat by the precious hoard. The worst of them he spake the 
first: "Brethren," quoth he, "hearken what I say. Though I 



jest and make merry, yet my wisdom is great. This treasure 
hath fortune given unto us, to live our lives in jollity and mirth, 
and as lightly as it cometh so will we spend it. Eh, God's precious 
dignity! who had weened to-day that we should have so fair a 
grace ? But now if this gold were but carried home to my house 
or, if ye like, to yours for well ye wot all this gold is ours, 
then were we in high felicity. But truly it may not be by day. \ 
Men would say that we were sturdy thieves, and would have us 
hanged for our own treasure. Nay, this treasure must be carried 
by night as wisely and as slily as may be. Wherefore I counsel 
that we draw cuts amongst us, and let see where the cut will 
fall; and he that draweth the cut shall run with blithe heart 
and that full fast to the town, and bring us brgad-andjipne 
by stealth ; and two of us shall guard this treasure craftily and 
well; and if he tarry not we will, when it is night, carry this treas- 


ure wheresoever with one consent it seemeth best to us." 

Thereat one of them brought the cuts held in his fist, and bade 
them draw and watch where the cut would fall; and it fell upon 
the youngest; and forth he went anon towards the town. And 
even as soon as he was gone, the one of them spake thus to his 
fellow : 

"Thou knowest well that thou art my brother, and I will tell 


thee somewhat to thy profit. Thou wotst well that our fellow 
is gone; and here is gold, and that a great sum, that shall be 
divided amongst us three. Natheless if I could so contrive that 
it were divided betwixt us two, had I not done thee a friendly 

The other answered: "I wot not how that may be; he 
wot how that we twain have the gold. What shall we do? What 
shall we say to him?" 



"SKall it be secret?" said the first rogue. "I will tell thee 
then in few words what we shall do, and I will bring it about." 

"I make thee my vow," quoth the other, "by my truth, that 
I will not betray thee." 

"Now," quoth the first, "thou wotst well that we be twain, 
and two of us shall be stronger than one. Watch when he shall 
be set down, and right anon rise up as though thou wouldst 
scuffle with him; and whiles that thou strugglest with him as in 
sport, I shall rive him through his two sides, and thou, with thy 
dagger, look thou do the same; and then shall all this gold be 
divided, my dear friend, betwixt me and thee. Then may we 
both fulfil all our pleasures, and play at dice right as we list." 
And thus be these two rogues accorded to slay the third, as ye 
have heard me tell. 

The youngest he that went to the village full oft he rolleth 
up and down in his heart the beauty of those bright, new florins. 
. *jT^b "O Lord," quoth he, "if so I might have all this treasure to 
myself, there is no man that liveth under the throne of God 
should live so merry as I!" And at last the fiend, our foe, put 
it into his thought that he should buy poison, with which to 
slay his two companions. For the fiend had found him in such 
bad living that he had leave to bring him to perdition; for this 
rogue's design was utterly this, to slay his fellows both and never 
to repent. 

No longer then he delayeth, but forth he goeth into the 
town unto an apothecary, and prayed him that he would sell 
him poison wherewith he might kill his rats; and eke in his yard 
there was a polecat, that (as he said) had slaughtered his capons; 
and fain, if he might, would he avenge him on the vermin that 
despoiled him by night. The apothecary answered: "Here thou 



shalt have a thing, and so may God save my soul! there is never 
a creature in all this world that shall eat or drink of this mixture, 
even the amount of a corn of wheat, but he shall yield up his 
life anon. Yea, die he shall, and that in less time than thou 
wilt go a mile at a walk; so strong and so violent is this poison." 
This cursed reveller hath taken into his hand the poison in a 
box; and thereupon he ran unto a man in the next street and 
borrowed of him three large bottles ; and into two poured he his 
poison. The third he kept clean for his own drink; for all that 
night he planned to toil in carrying away of the gold from that 
place. And when this reveller, sorrow betide him had filled his 
three great bottles with wine, he repaireth to his fellows. 

What needeth to discourse more of this? For even as they |J2 

had devised his death at the first, right so have they slain him v^ ; 

and that speedily. 

And when this was done, thus spake one of them: "Now 
let us sit and drink and make joy, and afterward we will bury 
his body." And with that word it happecl him perchance that 
he took the bottle wherein the poison was, and drank of it and 
gave his fellow also to drink, for which right anon they died 
both the two. 

But certes I suppose that Avicenna wrote never in any 
canon or any chapter more wondrous signs of empoisoning than 
had these two wretches before their end. 

Thus be ended these two_Jiainicides and eke the false 


O cursed sin, full of cursedness! O wickedness! O traitor's ^ 

homicide! O gluttony, lust and gambling! O thou blasphemer f^ 
of Christ, with churlish tongue and monstrous oaths born of evil 



usage and pride! Alas, mankind! how may it befall that to thy 
Creator who made thee and bought thee with his precious heart's 
blood, thou art so unkind and so false, alas! 

Now, good men, God forgive you your trespasses and keep 
you from the sin of avarice. Mine holy pardon may heal you 
all, if so be ye offer nobles, or sterlings, or else silver brooches, 
rings or spoons. Bow your heads under this holy bull! Here 
anon in my roll I enter your name. Into heaven's bliss shall 
ye go! You that will offer I will absolve by my high power 
as clean and pure as ye were born. Come up, ye wives ! offer ye 
of your wool. Lo, sirs, such is my sermon ; and may Jesu Christ, 
that is our soul's leech, grant you his pardon, for that is best, I 
will not deceive you. 

But, sirs, one word that I forgot in my tale. Here in my bag 
I have relics and pardons as fair as hath any man in England, 
which were given me by the pope's own hand. If any of you 
will offer with devoutness and have my absolution, come forth 
anon and kneel here, and meekly receive my pardon; or else 
take your pardons as ye ride all new and fresh at every town's 
end; but look that ye alway offer anew nobles and pence that 
be sound and good. To every wight that is here it is an honour 
that ye may have a pardoner sufficient to assoil you, in what- 
soever adventure may befall you in the country as ye ride. Per- 
chance one or two may fall down from his horse and break his 
neck in two. Look what a security it is for all of you that I am 
fallen into your fellowship to assoil you high and low, when 
the soul shall pass from the body, f counsel that our host here 
shall be the first, for he is most enveloped in sin. Come forth 
now, sir host, and offer first, and thou shalt kiss the relics, yea 
each and all, for a groat. Unbuckle thy wallet." 



"Nay, nay," quoth he, "may I have Christ's curse if I do I 
Let be ; I will not, say I. Thou wouldst make me kiss thine old 
hosen, and swear that they were the relics of a saint, were they 
never so filthy." 

This pardoner was so wroth that he answered never a word. 

"Now," quoth our host, "I will sport no longer with thee, 
nor with none other angry man." But right anon, when he 
saw that all the people laughed, spake the worthy Knight: "No 
more of this, for it is enough. Sir Pardoner, be glad and look 
merry. And ye, sir host, that be dear to me, I pray you that 
ye kiss the Pardoner. And Pardoner, I pray thee draw nearer, 
and let us laugh and sport as we did before." Anon they kissed 
and rode their way. 

Here is ended the Pardoner's Tale. 


The Wife of Bath's Prologue 

The Prologue of the Wife's Tale of Bath. 

"T~l XPERIENCE, though no authority were in this world 
TJ thereon, were enough for me to speak of woe that is in 
marriage; for, lordings, since I was twelve years old, 
thanks be to God that liveth eternally, ^jiave had husbands five 
at church-door, for so oft have I been wedded; and in their degree 
all were worthy men. But in sooth it was told me not long ago 
that, sith Christ went never but once to a wedding in Cana of 
Galilee, by the same ensample he taught me that I should be 
wedded but once. Lo! hark what a sharp word eke on this 
matter spake Jesus, man and God, beside a well in reproof of 
the Samaritan : 'Thou hast had five husbands,' quoth he, 'and that 
man which hath thee now is not thy husband;' thus said he in 
truth; what he meant thereby I cannot say; but this I ask: 
Why was the fifth man no husband to the Samaritan? How 
many might she have in marriage? Never yet in my life heard 
I a clear explication concerning this number. Men may con- 
jecture and gloss it up and down, but well I wot, in very truth, 
that God bade us expressly to jvaxjand^ multiply. That gentle 
text I can well understand. Eke I wot well he said mine hus- 
band should leave father and mother and take me; but of no 
number made he mention, whether of bigamy or of octogamy; 
why should men speak reproach of such? 



"Lo, Dan Solomon! the wise king; I trow he had more wives 
than one, as would God I had leave to be refreshed half so oft 
as he! What a gift of God he had in all his wives! No man 
hath such now in this world. God be praised that I have 
wedded five, from whom I have plucked their best. Diverse 
schools make perfect clerks; oiveMfi practice, in many sundry 
labours, maketh the workman thoroughly perfect; of five hus- 
bands am I the scholar. Welcome the sixth, whensoever he 
shall come. In sooth, I will not for aye keep me chaste. When 
mine husband is departed from the world, some Christian man 
shall wed me anon; for then, the apostle saith, I am free to 
wed, in God's name, where I list. It is no sin, he saith, to be 
wedded; better is it to be wedded than to burn. What reck I 
though folk speak reproach of accursed Lamech and his bigamy. 
I wot well Abraham was an holy man, and Jacob eke as far as I 
know; and each of them had wives more than twain, and many 
another holy man also. When saw ye ever that high God at 
any time expressly forbade marriage? I pray you tell; or 
where hath he commanded virginity? I wot as well as ye, in 
sooth, that the apostle, when he spake of maidenhood, said that 
precept thereof he had none. A man may counsel a woman 
to be a maid; but counselling is no command; he left it to our 
own discretion. For had God commanded maidenhood, then 
by that act had he damned marrying; and certes if there were 
sown no seed, whereof, then, should virginity grow? Even 
Paul durst not command a thing for which his master gave no 
precept. The prize is set up for virginity ; let him win who may ; 
let see who runneth best. But this word need not be received of 
every wight, but only where God list, of his power, to grant 
it. I wot well the apostle was a maid, but natheless, though 



he wrote that he would every wight were such as himself, all that 
is but counsel to virginity ; and he gave me leave of his indulgence 
to be a wife; so it is no reproof to wed, if my mate be dead, 
without the charge of bigamy. This is the sum and substance: 
He held maidenhood more perfect than wedding in frailty; and 
frailty I call it, if the man and maid will not lead all their life in 

"I grant, in sooth, I reck not though maidenhood be preferred 
to bigamy; it pleaseth such to be clean, body and spirit; of mine 
own estate I will make no boast. For well ye know a lord 
in his house hath not every vessel of pure gold ; some be of wood 
and do their lord service. God calleth folk to him in sundry 
ways, and each hath of God his own gift, some this, some that, 
as it pleaseth God to bestow. Virginity is a great virtue, and 
continence eke, with religious folk. But Christ, that is the spring 
of perfection, bade not every wight that he should go sell all 
he hath, and give it to the poor, and in such wise follow him 
and his steps. He spake but to them that would live perfectly, 
and by your leave, lordings, I Jim not such. I will bestow the 
flower of my life in the acts and in the fruit of marriage. But 
I say not that men should have no care of chastity. Christ was 
a maid, and yet created perfect man, and many a saint, since the 
beginning of the world, yet they lived alway in perfect chastity. 
I will envy no virgins ; let them be bread of pure wheat-seed ; and 
let us wives be called barley-bread; yet with barley-bread, as 
Mark telleth, our lord Jesu refreshed many a man. I will per- 
severe in such estate as God hath called us to ; I am not over-nice. 
An husband I will have, I will not forego him, that shall be my 
debtor and eke my thrall, and have his tribulation therewith while 
I am his wife. Whilst I live, I, and not he, shall have sway 



over him. Right thus was it told me by the apostle, that bade 
our husbands to love us well. That text pleaseth me every 
Upstarted the Pardoner and that straightway; "Now, dame," 
quoth he, "by God and Saint John, ye be on this text a noble 
preacher. I was about to wed a wife. Alas! Why should I 
pay for it so dearly upon my flesh? Liefer had I wed no wife 
this year!" 

"Abide!" quoth she, "my tale is yet to begin; nay, thou 
shalt drink of another tun, ere I go, shall savour worse than 
ale. And when I have told thee forth my story of tribulation 
in marriage, in which all my life I have been expert, that is to 
say, myself I have been the whip, then mayst thou choose 
whether thou wilt taste of that tun which I shall broach. Beware 
of it, ere thou draw too nigh; for I shall tell ensamples more 
than twice five. [^Whosoever will not beware by others, by him 
shall others be corrected. The same words writeth Ptolemy; 
read in his Almageste and there find it." 

"Dame, I would pray you, if it be your will," said this Par- 
doner, "as ye began, tell forth your tale, spare for no wight, 
and teach us young men of your practice." 

"Gladly," quoth she, "sith it may please you. But yet I 
pray unto all this fellowship, if I speak after my fantasy, take 
not amiss what I say, for mine intent is but to sport. Now, 
sirs, will I tell forth my story. As ever I hope to drink wine 
or ale, I shall say the sooth; those husbands that were mine, 
three of them were good and two were bad. The three were 
goody rich and oJd- They had given me their goods and 
their treasure; I needed no longer take pains to win their love, 
or do reverence to them. They loved me so well, by heaven's 



king, that I set no value on their love! A wise woman will 
ever busy her to get love where she hath none. But sith I had 
them wholly in hand, and sith they had given me all their goods, 
why should I take pains to please them, unless it were for mine 
own profit and my pleasure? The bacon, I ween, was not fetched 
for them, that some men get at Dunmowe in Essex. I governed 
them after my law so well that each of them was full blissful 
and fain to bring me gay things from the fair. They were full 
glad when I spake to them well for, God wot, I chid them 

"Now hearken how I bare me, ye wise wives that can under- 
stand. Thus shall ye speak and beguile them, for there can no 
man swear and lie half so boldly as a woman. I say not this 
concerning wives that be wise, unless it be when they have for- 
gotten themselves. A wise wife, if she knoweth her own good, 
shall make him believe the chough is mad, and take her own maid 
to witness. But hark how I would speak. 

"Sir, old dotard, is this thy treatment of me? Why is my 
neighbour's wife so gay? She is honoured wheresoever she goeth ; 
I sit at home, I have no gown that I can wear. What dost thou 
at my neighbour's house ? Is she so fair ? Art thou so enamoured ? 
What whisper ye with our maid? Ben cite! Sir old rake, let be 
thy wiles. And if I have a friend or a gossip without guilt, 
thou chidest as a fiend, if I amuse me by going unto his lodging ! 
Thou comest home as drunk as a mouse, and preachest on thy 
bench, bad luck to thee! Thou sayest to me it is a great mis- 
fortune to wed a poor woman for the cost thereof; and if she 
be rich, of high birth, then sayest thou that it is a torment to 
suffer her pride and her humours. And if she be fair, thou 
very knave, thou sayest that every rake will have her ; she may no 



while remain in chastity that is assailed upon each side. Thou 
sayest some folk desire us for wealth, some for our shape and 
some for our fairness, and some because we can sing or dance, 
and some for gentility and playfulness, some for our hands 
and our slender arms; thus by thy tale goeth all to the devil. 
Thou sayest a castle-wall may be so long assailed on every side 
that men may no longer keep it. And if she be foul thou 
sayest that she coveteth every man she may see; for as a spaniel 
she will leap on him, till she find some man to bargain with 
her ; and no goose so gray, sayest thou, goeth there in the lake as 
will be without a mate. And sayest it is a hard thing for to 
control a thing that no man will hold willingly. Thus sayest 
thou, old knave, when thou goest to bed. And that no wise man 
needeth to marry, nor any man that aspireth unto heaven; with 
wild thunder-clap and fiery lightning may thy withered neck 
be broken! Thou sayest that leaking roofs, and smoke, and 
chiding wives make men flee out of their own house. Ah! what 
aileth such an old man, ben' cite! to chide? Thou sayest, we 
wives will conceal our vices till we be fast wedded, and then we 
will show them; that may well be a rogue's proverb! Thou 
sayest that oxen, asses, horses and hounds at diverse times be 
tested; and so be basins and wash-pails, pots, clothes and other 
goods, spoons and tools, and all such chattels, ere men buy them ; 
but of wives folk make no assay till they be wedded; and then, 
sayest thou, old dotard rogue, we will show our vices. 

"Thou sayest also that it displeaseth me unless thou wilt praise 
my beauty, and pore alway on my countenance, and in every place 
call me 'fair dame ;' and unless thou make a festival on my birth- 
day, and make me gay and fresh of garb, and unless thou do 
respect to my nurse, and to my maidservant within my bower, 




and to my father's folk and his kindred; thus thou sayest, 
old barrel full of lies ! 

"And yet of_Jankin, our apprentice, for his crisp hair, 
shining as fine gold, and because he squireth me hither and 
thither, thou hast caught a false suspicion; I would naught of 
him, though thou wert dead to-morrow. But tell me this, why 
in the fiend's name hidest thou the keys of thy chest away from 
me? Pardee, my good is it as well as thine. Why weenest thou 
to make an idiot of thy lady? Now by that lord that is called 
Saint James, though thou be mad, thou shalt not be master both 
of my body and of my goods ; one thou shalt forego, maugre thine 
eyes. What need hast thou to inquire of me, and spy upon 
me? I trow, thou wouldst lock me in thy chest! Thou shouldst 
say, 'Wife, go where it liketh you, take your disport, I will 
, not believe any gossip; I know you for a true wife, dame Alis.' 
We love no man that taketh heed where we go ; we would be free. 

"May he be blessed of all men, the wise astrologer Dan 
Ptolemy, that saith in his Almageste this proverb: 'Of all men 
his wisdom is the highest that recketh never who hath the world 
in his hand.' This proverb thou shalt construe thus : if thou have 
enough, why needest thou reck or heed how merrily other folk 
fare ? For certainly by your leave, old dotard, ye shall have right 
enough of your due in good time. He is too great a niggard 
that will refuse a man leave to light a candle at his lantern; he 
shall have never the less light, pardee; if so thou hast enough, 
thou needest not to complain. 

"Thou sayest eke, if we make us gay with clothing and pre- 
cious gear, that it is peril unto our chastity ; and yet more, sorrow 
betide thee! thou must enforce thy speech, and say these words 
of the apostle, 'In habit made with chastity and shame fastness, 



ye women shall apparel you, and not in tressed hair and gay 
jewels, as pearls, nor with gold, nor rich clothes.' In accordance 
with this text and rubric of thine, I will not perform as much 
as a fly. Thou saidest I was like a cat; for if a man will singe 
a cat's skin, then will the cat alway abide in his house; but if the 
cat's skin be sleek and fair, she will not dwell in house half a 
day, but ere any daylight be dawned, she will forth to show her 
skin and go a-caterwauling. This is to say if I be clad fair, 
sir rogue, I am running out to show my duds. 

"Sir old fool, what aileth thee to spy upon me? Though 
thou pray unto Argus, with his hundred eyes, to be my body- 
guard as best he knoweth, in faith, he shall not keep me unless 
I please; still could I cozen him, on my life. Thou saidest eke 
that there be three things which trouble all this world, and that 
no wight may endure the fourth. O sweet sir rogue, Jesu shorten 
thy days! Yet thou preachest and sayest a hateful wife is 
reckoned for one of these mischiefs. Be there no other manner 
of resemblances that ye may use in your parables, unless a poor 
wife be one of them? Thou likenest woman's love., to... hell, to 
barren land, where no water may abide. Thou likenest it also 
to wild_fire; the more it burneth, the more it hath appetite toY /irvowiA 
consume everything that may be burnt. Thou sayest that even 
as worms ruin a tree, right so a wife destroyeth her husband; 
this know they that be bound to wives. 

"Lordings, right thus stiffly, as ye have heard, I made mine 
old husbands believe that they had said thus when they were 
drunk; and all was false, but I took Jankin to witness and also 
my niece. O lord, the sorrow I made them and the woe, full 
guiltless, by God's sweet pain! For I could whine and bite 
as an horse. I could complain though I were in the gmTtTor 



else oftentimes had I been lost. He that first cometh to mill 
grindeth first; I complained first, so I ended our strife. They 
were full glad to pray forgiveness full soon for things of which 

5 they were never guilty in their lives. I would accuse my hus- 
band of wenches when scarce he might stand for sickness. Yet 
it tickled his heart, for he weened that I had so great fondness 
'' for him. I swore that all my walking out by night was to spy 
on wenches that he wooed. Under colour of that had I many 
a mirth. For all such wit is given us when we are born. Deceit, 
weeping and spinning God hath given to women by nature while 
they live. And thus I vaunt me of one thing; in the end I had 
alway the better of them, either by sleight, or force, or by some 
manner of means, such as continual murmuring or grumbling. 
Especially would I chide and do them no pleasance, till they 
had made over their ransom to me. And therefore to every man 
I say this, let him win who may; for all is to sell. With empty 
hand men may lure no hawks. Though the pope had sat beside 
them, I would not spare them at their own table; I quit them 
word for word, by my troth. So help me very God almighty, 
though right now I should make my testament, I owe them no 
word that is not paid. I brought it so about by my wit, that 
they must give up, or else had we never been at peace. For 
though they looked as angry lions, yet should they fail of their 

"Then would I say, 'Sweet love, give heed how meekly looketh 
Wilkin our sheep ; come nearer, my spouse, let me kiss thy cheek ! 
Ye should be all mild and patient and have a sweet, scrupulous 
conscience, sith ye so preach of Job. Be patient alway, sith ye 
can preach so well ; and unless ye be, certainly ye shall learn how 
fair a thing it is to live with a wife in peace. Questionless one 



of us two must bow, and sith a man is more reasonable than 
woman is, ye must be the one to submit. What aileth you 
thus to grumble and groan? By God, ye be to blame; I say you 
the sooth.' Such manner of words had we together. Now will I 
speak of my fourth husband. My fourth husband was a reveller ; 
that is, he had a paramour; and I was young and full of wild 
spirit, stubborn and strong and merry as a magpie. Well could I 
dance to a small harp, and sing, sooth, as any nightingale, when I 
had drunk a draught of sweet wine. Metellius, the foul churl, the 
hog, that slew his wife with a staff because she drank wine, had 
I been his wife, he should not have daunted me from drinking; 
and after wine, I think most on Venus. In a vinolent woman 
there is no denial; this rakes know by experience. But lord! 
when I take remembrance upon my youth and my jollity, it 
tickleth me about the root of mine heart. Unto this day it doth 
mine heart good that I have had my world in my time. But 
alas! age, that will envenom all, hath bereft me of my pith and 
my beauty; let go, farewell, the devil go with them! The flour 
is gone, there is nothing more to say; the bran now I must 
bestow as best I am able. But yet will I endeavour to be right 
merry. Now will I tell of my fourth husband. 

"I say, I had great despite in my heart that he had joy of 
any other. But I paid him, by God and Saint Bennet ! I made 
him a cross of the same wood; not in any foul manner, but 
certainly I made folk such cheer that I made him fry in his own 
grease, for very anger and jealousy. God's name! L^^asjiis 

pnrpatnry nfl partly for which I hope his SOul be in bliss. For l\/Y 

God wot, he sat full oft and sang when his shoe wrung him 
full bitterly. No wight, save God and him, knew how sore, in 
many wise, I tormented him. He died when I came from 



Jerusalem; under the rood-beam he lieth buried, although his 
tomb is not so curiously wrought as was the sepulchre of Darius, 
which Apelles wrought subtly; to bury him preciously were but 
waste. Let him fare well, God give peace to his soul; he is 
now in the grave and in his chest. 

"Now will I speak of my fifth hnshanrl, Clod let his SOul 
never come in hell! And yet he was the most rascally to me, 
as I feel on my ribs all in a row, and shall ever unto mine 
ending-hour. But he was so fresh and gay, and therewith he could 
so well cajole me, that though he had beat me in every bone, he 
could straightway win my love again. I trow I loved him best 
because he was sparing of his love to me. To speak sooth, we 
women have in this matter a quaint fantasy; is there a thing 
that we may not lightly have? thereafter will we cry ever and 
crave. /Forbid us a thing, and we desire it; press on us hard, 
and then we will flee. \We grudge to spread out all our goods; 
great press at market maketh dear wares ; and too cheap is held 
at little worth ; every woman that is wise knoweth this. 

"My fifth husband, God bless his soul! whom I took for 
love and j]p\ for riohes. was sometime a clerk of Oxford, and had 
left school, and went home to board with my gossip, that dwells 
in our town, God have her soul! Alisoun was her name. She 
knew mine heart and my privity better than our parish priest, 
as I live! I confided to her all my secrets. For had my hus- 
band done a thing that should have cost him his head, I would 
have told every whit of his secret to her and another worthy 
wife and to my niece, that I loved well. And so I did, God 
knoweth, full often, so that it made his face red and hot for 
very shame, and he blamed himself that he had told to me so 
great a privity. 



"And so it befell that once, in Lent (I visited my gossip so 
often, for ever I have loved to be merry, and to walk, in March, 
April and May, from house to house, and hear sundry tales), 
that Jankin the clerk, and my gossip dame Alis, and I myself, 
walked into the fields. All that Lent my husband was at London ; 
I had the better leisure to sport, and to see and eke to be seen 
of lusty folk; how wist I where my luck was destined to be? 
Therefore I made my visits to vigils and to processions, to 
preaching and eke to these pilgrimages, to plays of miracles, 
and weddings, and wore my gay scarlet skirts. These worms, 
nor these moths, nor these mites, ate them never a whit; and 
wotst thou why? for they were used well. 

"Now will I tell forth what happened to me. I say that 
we walked in the fields, till verily we had such dalliance, this clerk 
and I, that I spake to him, and said to him, of my foresight, how 
if I were a widow, he should wed me. For certainly, I say it not 
for any boast, I was never yet without provision for marriage, nor 
for other things also. I hold that mouse hath a heart not worth 
a leek, which hath but one hole to start to, and if that fail, then 
is all lost. I made him believe he had enchanted me; my dame 
taught me that trick. And I said eke that I dreamed of him 
all night; he would have slain me, I dreamed, as I lay, and my 
bed was all full of very blood; but yet I hoped that he should 
do well by me, for to dream of blood betokeneth gold, I was 
taught. And all was false, I dreamed of it never at all, but I 
ever followed my dame's lore in this as in other things. But sir, 
let me see now, what shall I say? Aha! by Saint John! I have 
my tale again. 

"When my fourth husband was on his bier, I wept aye and 
made a sorrowful face, as wives must, for it is custom, and with 



my kerchief covered my visage ; but because I was provided with 
a new mate, I wept but small and that I warrant. My hus- 
band was borne to church in the morning by neighbours that 
made great sorrow for him; and Jankin our clerk was one of 
them. So God help me, when I saw him walking after the bier, 
methought he had a pair of legs and of feet so fair and clean, 
that I gave unto him all mine heart. He was twenty winter old, 
I trow, and if I shall not lie, I was^forjy; but yet I had alway 
a colt's tooth. Gap-toothed I was, and that well became me; I 
had the print of Saint Venus' seal. So God help me, I was fair 
and rich, a lusty one, young and joyous. For certes in feeling I 
am all Venerian, and mine heart is Martian. Venus gave me 
my jollity and my wantonness, and Mars my sturdy hardihood. 
Mine ascendent was Taurus, and Mars in it. Alas! alas! that 
ever love was sin! I followed aye mine inclination by virtue 
of my stars; this caused that the Venus in me could never resist 
a good fellow. Yet I have Mars' mark upon my face, for, so 
God save me! I never loved by discretion, but ever followed my 
desire, were he white or black, or short or long ; so he pleased me, 
I recked not how poor he was, nor of what estate. 

"What should I say but that, at the month's end, this jolly 
clerk Jankin, that was so courteous, wedded me with great joy 
and feasting, and to him I gave all the land and fee that had 
ever been given me ; but I repented me afterward full sore. He 
would let nothing be to my liking. By God, he smote me once 
-/on the ear, because I rent a leaf out of his book, so that of the 
stroke mine ear waxed stone deaf. 

"I was as stubborn as a lioness, and a very j angler with my 
tongue, and I would walk from house to house, as I had done 
before, even if he had forbidden it. For which oftentimes he 



would preach to me, and tell me of old Roman stories, how 
Simplicius Gallus left his wife, and forsook her as long as he 
lived, for naught but that he saw her upon a day looking out 
at his door bareheaded. Another Roman he told me of 
that forsook his wife eke, because she was at a summer's game 
without his knowing. And then would he seek in his Bible that 
proverb of Ecclesiasticus, where in his commandment he strongly 
forbiddeth a man to suffer his wife go gadding about; then 
ye may be sure he would say right thus : 

'Whoso that buildeth all his house of sallows, 
Whoso that spurreth his blind horse over the fallows, 
And suffereth his wife seek shrines and hallows, 
Is worthy to be hanged on the gallows.' 

"But it was all for naught, I recked not a berry for his 
proverbs nor his old saws, nor would I be corrected of him. I 
hate him that telleth me my vices, and so do more of us than 
I, God wot! This made him utterly angry with me; I would 
not spare him in any case. 

"Now by Saint Thomas, I will tell you the sooth why I rent 
a page out of his book, for which he smote me deaf. He had 
a book that gladly for his disport he would aye read day and 
night. He called it Valerie and Theofraste, at which book he 
laughed alway full merrily. And eke there was once a clerk 
at Rome, a cardinal, he was called Saint Jerome, that composed 
a book against Jovinian; in which book there were Crisippus, 
Trotula, Tertulan and Helowys, that was an abbess not far 
from Paris ; and the Parables of Solomon, Ovid's Art and many 
a book, and all these were bound in one volume, and every night 



and day, when he had leisure and vacation from other worldly 
business, it was his custom to read on this book of wicked wives. 
He knew more legends of them and histories than there be of 
good wives in the Bible. For trust well, it is an impossibility 
that any clerk will speak good of wives, unless it be of holy 
saints, but of any other woman never. Who painted the lion, 
tell me who? By God, if women had written stories, as clerks 
have within their cells, they would have written of men more 
wickedness than the whole race of Adam might amend. The 
children of Mercury be full adverse in their working to those 
of Venus. Mercury loveth wisdom and knowledge, and Venus 
loveth riot and spending. And because of their diverse tempera- 
ment, each declineth in the other's exaltation ; and thus Mercury, 
God wot, is desolate in Pisces, where Venus is exalted; and 
Venus falleth where Mercury is uplifted; therefore no woman 
is praised of a clerk. The clerk, when he is old and hath lost 
his amorousness, then sitteth he down and writeth in his dotage 
that women cannot keep their wedding-vows! 

"But now to my point, pardee, why, as I was about to tell 
thee, I was beaten for a book. On a night, my lord and master 
Jankin, as he sat by the fire, read on his book first of Eve, by 
whose wickedness all mankind was brought to woe, for which 
Jesu Christ himself was slain, and redeemed us with his heart's 
blood. Lo! here may ye see it expressly written of woman, that 
she was the perdition of all mankind. Then he read me how, 
when Samson lay sleeping, his mistress cut off his hair with her 
shears; through which treason he lost both his eyes. Then he 
read me of Hercules and his Deianira, that caused him to burn 
to death. Nor forgot he the penance and woe that Socrates had 
with his two wives; how Xantippe cast slops on his head; this 



poor man sat still, as one sleeping; he wiped his head and durst 
say no more than 'ere thunder stinteth cometh a rain.' The 
tale of Pasiphae, that was queen of Crete, savoured to him 
pleasantly for her wickedness ; fie ! speak no more of her horrible 
lust and love; it is a grisly thing. Of Clytemnestra, that, for 
her wantonness, made her husband to die, he read it with full 
good devotion. He told me eke for what cause Amphiaraus 
died at Thebes; he had a legend of his wife, Eriphile, that for 
a clasp of gold privily revealed unto the Greeks the place where 
her husband hid him, for which he had a sorrowful fate at 
Thebes. Of Lyma he told me, and of Lucy, that both caused 
their husbands' deaths, the one for love, the other for hatred. 
Lyma, late on an even, poisoned her husband, because she had 
grown to be his foe. Lucy wantonly so loved her husband that, 
to make him alway have her in mind, she gave him such a manner 
of love-drink that he died, ere it was morrow; and thus hus- 
bands ever have woe. 

"Then he told me how one Latumius complained to Arrius, 
his fellow, that a certain tree grew in his garden on which, he 
said, his three wives hanged themselves for anger of heart. 'O 
sweet brother,' quoth this Arrius, 'give me a graft of that 
blessed tree and it shall be planted in my garden !' He read me of 
wives of later date, how some slew their husbands in their beds. 
Some have driven nails in their husbands' brains while they 
slept, and thus they have killed them; some have given 
poison to them in their drink. He spake more harm than 
heart can conceive. And therewith he knew of more 
proverbs than there grow blades of grass in this world. 
'Better is it,' quoth he, 'that thy habitation be with a lion or a 
foul dragon than with a woman that useth to chide. Better 



is It,' quoth he, 'to dwell high upon the roof than with an angry 
wife down in the house; they be so wicked and contrary, they 
hate aye what their husbands love.' He said, 'A woman casteth 
her shame away when she casteth off her smock,' and eke 'A fair 
woman, unless she be also chaste, is like a gold ring in a sow's 
nose.* Who can ween or conceive the woe and pain that was 
in my heart? 

"And when I saw he would never have done all night reading 
on this cursed book, all suddenly I plucked three leaves out of 
his book, right as he read, and anon I so took him with my 
fist on the cheek that he fell down backward into our fire. And 
he started up as doth a mad lion, and so smote me with his fist 
on the temple that I lay on the floor as I were dead. And when 
he saw how still I lay, he was aghast and would have fled, till 
at last I started out of my swoon. 'O ! hast thou slain me, false 
thief?' I said, 'and hast thou murdered me thus for my land? Yet 
ere I die, would I kiss thee.' And he came nigh and kneeled down 
gently and said, 'Dear sister Alisoun, so help me God, I shall 
never smite thee again; what I have done, thyself art to blame 
for. Forgive it me, I beseech thee.' And yet straight again I 
hit him on the cheek and said, 'Thief, thus mickle am I avenged ; 
now will I die, I may speak no longer.' But at last, with mickle 
care and woe, we were accorded between ourselves. He gave me 
into my hand all the bridle to have governance of house and acres, 
and of his tongue and his hand also; and I made him burn his 
book then and there. And when, by my victory, I had got unto 
me all the power of governance, and he said, 'Mine own true wife, 
do as it liketh thee as long as thou shalt live, guard thine own 
honour and mine estate eke' after that day we had never strife. 
So help me God, I was as loving to him as any wife from 



Denmark to Ind, and as true, and so was he to me. I pray to 
God that sitteth in splendour to bless his soul, of his dear mercy. 
Now, if ye will hark, I will tell my tale." 

Behold the words between the Summoner and the Friar. 

The Friar laughed when he had hearkened to all this. "Now 
dame," quoth he, "as I hope for joy, this is a full long pre- 
amble of a tale!" And when the Summoner heard the Friar 
sing out, "Lo!" quoth he, "God's two arms! A friar will ever- 
more be meddling. Lo, good men! a fly and a friar will fall 
in every dish and every affair. Why speakest thou of preambu- 
lation? What! amble, or trot, or stand still, or go sit down; 
thou hinderest our sport in this manner." 

"Yea!" quoth the Friar, "wilt thou so, Sir Summoner? Now 
by my faith, ere I go, I shall tell such a tale or two of a sum- 
moner, that all the folk here shall laugh." "Now, Friar," quoth 
this Summoner, "I beshrew else thy face, and I beshrew myself, 
but I tell tales two or three of friars, ere I arrive at Sidingborne, 
as shall irk thine heart full sore, for well I wot thy patience 
is gone." 

Our host cried, "Peace! and that straightway! let the woman 
tell her story," he said. "Ye fare as folk that be drunken with 
ale. Pray, dame, tell your story, and that is best." "All ready, 
sir, right as it pleaseth you," quoth she, "if I have permission 
of this worthy Friar." "Yes," quoth he, "tell forth, dame, and 
I will listen." 

Here endeth the Wife of Bath her Prologue, 


The Tale of the Wife of Bath 

Here beginneth the Tale of the Wife of Bath. 

IN the old days of King Arthur, of which Britons tell won- 
drous tales, all this land was filled with troops of fairies. 
The elf -queen danced full oft with her jolly company In 
many a green mead. This, as I understand, was the old opinion ; 
I speak of many hundred years ago; for now no man can see 
any elves more. For now the prayers and the great charity of 
limiters and other holy friars that search every land and stream, 
as thick as motes in the sun's ray, blessing halls, chambers, 
kitchens, bowers, cities, boroughs, castles, high bastions, thorps, 
barns, dairies, stables, this maketh that there be no fays. For 
where was wont to walk a fairy, there now, of afternoons and 
of mornings, walketh the limiter himself, and saith his matins 
and holy prayers as he goeth in his limit. Women may go 
safely back and forth, under every tree and bush; there is no 
other incubus but him and he will do them no dishonour. 

It so befell that this King Arthur had in his house a knight, 
lusty and young, that on a day came riding from the river, 
and it happed that he saw, walking before him, a maid, alone 
as she was born, whom anon, despite her utmost, he bereft of 
her maidenhood, for which oppression there was such outcry 
and such complaint unto King Arthur, that this knight by course 
of law was condemned to die, and would peradventure have lost 


his head, such then was the statute, had not the queen and other 
ladies so long prayed the king of his grace, that he granted him J/ 
instead his life, and gave him wholly to the queen, to choose at her 
will whether she would save or destroy him. 

The queen thanketh the king with all her heart, and after 
when she saw her time, she spake thus to the knight: "Thou 
standest yet in such estate that thou hast no surety of thy life. 
I grant thee life, if thou canst tell me what thing women most-y ft/ '^ 
desire. Be ware, and keep thy neck -bone from iron. And if 
thou canst not tell it at once, yet will I give thee leave to go 
for a twelve-month and a day, to seek and learn an answer 
sufficient unto this matter. And ere thou go, I will have surety 
that thou wilt yield up thy body in this place." 

Woful is this knight and sigheth sorrowfully, but what! he 
may not do all things as he liketh, and at last he chooseth to 
depart and come again at the year's end with such answer as God 
would provide for him, and taketh his leave and wendeth forth 
on his way. 

He seeketh every house and place where he hopeth, with 
heaven's favour, to learn what thing women love most, but in 
no region could he arrive where he might find two creatures agree- 
ing together in this matter. Some said women love best riches, 
some said honour; some, mirth; some, rich raiment; some, mar- 
riage joys and to be ofttimes wed and widowed. Some said 
that our hearts be most content when we be flattered and pleased. 
I will confess, such cometh full nigh the sooth; a man shall 
best win us with flattery; and by attentions and petty courtesies 
we be snared, both more and less. And some say how we love best 
to be free and do even as we please, and to have no man reprove 
us of our vices, but say that we are wise and in no way foolish. 



For truly if a wight will claw us on our sore place, there is 
none of us that will not kick, because he telleth us the truth; 
essay, and he that doth shall find it so ; for be we never so vicious 
within, we would be held prudent and blameless. And some say 
that we take great delight to be thought staid and trusty with 
secrets, and steadfast in one purpose, and not communicative of 
things that men tell us ; but that tale is not worth a rake-handle ; 
pardee, we women can hide nothing ; witness Mydas ; will ye hear 
the tale? 

Ovid, amongst other small things, saith that Mydas, under 
the long locks growing on his head, had two ass's ears, which 
blemish he hid, as best he could, full subtly from every man's 
sight, so that none other save his wife wist thereof. He loved 
her most and trusted her also. He prayed her that she should tell 
no creature of his disfigurement. She swore to him "nay," for all 
this world she would not commit such a sin and disgrace as to 
make her husband have so foul a reputation; she would not tell 
it for her own shame. Natheless it seemed to her that she would 
die if she must hold a secret so long ; it seemed her heart swelled 
so sore that some word must needs start from her, and sith she 
durst tell it to no wight, down she ran to a marsh near by; her 
heart' burned till she came there, and as a bittern bumbleth in 
the mire, she laid her mouth unto the water: "Betray me not, 
thou water," quoth she, "with thy sound; unto thee I tell it and 
none other; my husband hath long ass's ears twain! Now is 
my heart whole ; now it is out ; to save me I might no longer keep 
it." Here ye may see, though we may keep a secret for a time, 
yet it must out, we cannot hide it. 

This knight, of whom my tale is especially, when he saw that 
he could not come at what women love most, was full sorrowful 



at heart and in spirit; but home he goeth, he might not tarry. 
The day was come when he must turn homeward; and on his 
way, in all this woe, it happed that he rode under a forest-side, 
where he saw going upon the dance more than four and twenty 
ladies, toward whom he drew rein full eagerly, in the hope that 
he might learn some wisdom. But certain is it, that ere he 
reached this dance, it was vanished, he wist not where. No living 
creature he saw, save that on the green he saw a wife sitting; 
a fouler wight no man can imagine. This old wife gan rise up 
to meet the knight and said: "Sir Knight, here lieth no path. 
Tell me, by your fay, what ye seek? Peradventure it may be 
the better for you. We old folk know many things." "My 
good mother," quoth this knight truly, "I am no better than 
dead, unless I can say what thing women most desire. Could ye 
inform me, I would requite you well." 

"Plight me here thy troth in my hand," quoth she, "that thou 
wilt do the next thing that I require of thee, if it lie in thy 
power, and ere night I will tell it you." "Have here my troth," 
quoth he, "I consent." 

"Then," quoth she, "I dare pledge thy life is safe, for I will 
stand by it, on my life, the queen will say as I. Let see which 
of them that is proudest and weareth a head-kerchief, or a caul, 
dare say nay to that which I shall teach thee. Let us go forth 
without more talk." Then she whispered a sentence in his ear, 
and bade him be glad and have no dread. 

When they were come to the court, this knight said that he 
had kept his day, as he had sworn, and his answer was ready. Full 
many a noble wife and maid, and many a widow, for they be 
wise, were assembled the queen herself sitting as a judge 
to hearken his answer; and soon this knight was bade to appear. 



Unto every wight was commanded silence, and unto the knight 
that he should tell in open court what thing worldly women love 
best. This knight stood not still as a dumb brute, but to his 
question straightway answered with manly voice, so that all 
the court heard it. "My liege lady," quoth he, "universally 
woman desireth to have dominion both over her husband and his 
love, and to have mastery over him. This is your utmost desire, 
though ye kill me. Do as ye list, I am here at your mercy." 

In all the court there was nor maiden, nor wife, nor widow, 
that denied what he said, but they said he was worthy to live. 
At that word up started the old wife, whom the knight saw sitting 
on the green. "Pardon," quoth she, "my sovereign lady! Ere 
your court depart, do me justice. I taught this answer unto the 
knight, for which he plighted me his troth, that he would do 
the next thing I should require of him, if it lay in his power. 
Before the court, then, I pray thee, Sir Knight, that thou take 
me to wife; for well thou wottest that I have saved thee. If I 
speak false, say nay, on thy faith!" 

This knight answered: "Alas! welaway! I wot right well that 
such was my promise. For God's love, choose a new request; 
take all my wealth, but leave my body." 

"Nay then," quoth she, "beshrew us both! for though I be foul 
and old and poor, I would not for all the metal and gold, which is 
buried under earth, or lieth upon it, that I were other than thy 
wife and eke thy love." "My love? Nay," quoth he, "my dam- 
nation! Alas! that any of my race should ever be so foully 
disgraced!" But all was for naught; the end is, that he was 
constrained to espouse her ; and he taketh his old wife and goeth 
to bed. 

Peradventure now some folk will say that in my negligence 


mudi o 
anb fait 


I take no pains to tell you the joy and all the ordinance of the 
feast that day; to which I shall briefly answer. There was no 
joy nor feast at all; there was only heaviness and much sorrow; 
for he wedded her on a morning privily, and afterward hid him- 
self all day as an owl, so woful was he that his wife looked so 
loathsome. Great woe had the knight in his heart when he was 
brought abed with his wife; he rolleth from side to side and 
turneth to and fro. His old wife evermore lay smiling and 
said, "O dear husband, ben cite! fareth every knight thus with 
his wife? Is this the law of King Arthur's house? Is every 
knight of his so unapproachable? I am your own love and eke 
your wife; I am she which hath saved you; and certes never yet 
did I wrong unto you; why fare ye thus with me this first night? 
Ye fare like a man that hath lost his wit; what is my guilt? for 
God's love, tell me, and if I can, it shall be amended." 

"Amended? Alas!" quoth this knight, "nay, nay! It will 
never be amended more! Thou art so loathsome and so old, and 
come eke of so low a birth, that little wonder it is, though I 
wallow and wind. Would to God my heart would burst!" "Is 
this," quoth she, "the cause of your restlessness?" "Yea, cer- 
tainly," quoth he, "and no wonder." "Now, sir," quoth she, "ere 
three days' space, if I list, I could amend all this, so that ye 
might bear you well unto me. But sith ye speak of such gentle- 
ness as is descended from ancient wealth, wherefore ye say ye 
should be accounted gentle, such arrogance is not worth a hen. 
Look to him who, privily and openly, is alway most virtuous, 
and ever inclineth most to do the gentle deeds he is able, and 
take him for the greatest gentleman. Christ desireth that we 
claim from him our gentleness, not from our ancestors because 
of their ancient wealth. For though they may give us all their 



heritage, for which we claim to be of high birth, yet in no wise 
may they bequeath to any of us their virtuous living which 
made them to be called gentlemen; and Christ bade us follow 
them in that respect. 

"Well can the wise poet of Florence, Dante, speak in this 
regard ; lo ! in such verse is Dante's tale : 

'Full seldom upward into the small branches 
Riseth the worth of man ; for God desireth 
That we should claim from Him our gentleness/ 

For of our ancestors we may claim nothing but temporal things, 
which men may hurt and harm. Every wight eke wot this as 
well as I, that if gentleness were planted by nature in a certain 
lineage, then would they of that line cease never, privily or openly, 
to do the fair offices of gentleness; they could do no discourtesy 
or sin. 

"Take fire, and bear it into the darkest house betwixt Mount 
Caucasus and here, and let men shut the doors and go thence; 
yet will the fire blaze and burn as fair as though twenty thousand 
men might behold it; on my life, it will perform its natural 
office till it die. 

"Here may ye see well how gentility is not tied down to 
possession, sith folk perform not their proper functions alway 
as doth lo! the fire after its kind. For, God wot, men may full 
often see a lord's son do shame and dishonour. And he that 
would have praise Tor his gentility, because he was born of a 
gentle house, and had ancestors virtuous and noble, and will do 
no gentle deeds himself, nor imitate his gentle ancestor, he is 
not gentle, be he a duke or a prince ; for rude, sinful deeds make 



a churl. For gentleness which is but the renown of thine ances- 
tors for their high worth is a thing strange to thine own person; 
thy gentleness cometh to thee from God alone; true gentleness, 
then, cometh unto us by grace; it was in no wise bequeathed us 
with our birth. 

"Think how noble was that Tullius Hostilius, that rose 
as saith Valerius out of poverty unto high nobility. Read 
Seneca and read eke Boethius; there shall ye see expressed with- 
out doubt that he is gentle who performeth gentle deeds; and 
therefore, dear husband, I draw to an end thus, that although 
mine ancestors were rude, yet may the high God, as I hope, 
grant me grace to live virtuously. Then shall I be gentle, when 
I live virtuously and eschew sin. 

"And whereas ye reprove me of poverty, the high God, on 
whom we believe, chose of his own will to live in poverty. And 
certes every man, maid, or wife, may understand that Jesus, 
heaven's king, would not choose a vicious life. Glad poverty, 
sooth, is a seemly thing; this Seneca saith, and other clerks. 
Whosoever considereth himself paid of his own poverty, I hold 
him rich, though he have not a shirt. He that coveteth is a 
poor wight, for he would have that which is not in his power. 
But he that hath naught, nor coveteth to have, is rich, though ye 
may consider him but a hind. True poverty singeth of its own 
nature; Juvenal saith pleasantly of poverty: 'The poor man, 
when he goeth by the way, may sing and sport before the thieves.' 
Poverty is a gift hateful to its possessor, but as I ween, a great 
remover of cares ; a full great repairer eke of wisdom to him that 
taketh it in patience, and although it seem wretched, it is a 
possession no wight will calumniate. Full oft, when a man is 
humble, poverty maketh him to know his God and eke himself. 



Poverty methinketh is a glass, through which he may see his 
true friends. And therefore, sir, sith I vex you naught, reprove 
me no more of my poverty. 

"Now, sir, ye reprove me because of mine old age; and certes, 
sir, though there were no authority thereon in any book, yet ye 
honourable gentles say that men should show favour unto an old 
wight, and of your gentleness call him father ; and I ween I shall 
find authorities. 

"Whereas, too, ye say that I am foul and old, therefore dread 
not that I shall be false to thee ; for, as I live, filth and old age be 
great wardens of chastity. Natheless sith I know your pleasure, 
I shall fulfil your worldly desire. Choose now one of these two 
things, to have me foul and old till I die and be to you a true, 
humble wife and never displease you in all my days, or else to 
have me young and comely, and take your chances of the resort 
that shall be to your house, because of me, or perchance to some 
other place. Now choose yourself, whichever it liketh you." 

This knight taketh counsel with himself and sigheth sore, 
and at last he saith in this manner: "My lady and my love and 
my dear wife, I put me in your wise governance ; choose yourself 
which may be most pleasure and most honour to you and eke to 
me ; I reck not to which of the two ; for as it liketh you it sufficeth 
me." "Then," quoth she, "have I got the mastery of you, sith 
I may choose, and govern as it liketh me?" "Yea, certes, wife," 
quoth he, "I deem it best." "Kiss me," quoth she, "let us be 
wrathful no longer, for by my word, I will be both to you, 
that is to say, hpth fiiir, you, nnd grind I pray to God that I 
may die mad unless I be to you as good and faithful as ever wife 
was since the world was new; and unless I be to-morrow as fair 
to see as any lady, empress or queen that is betwixt the east and 



the west, do with me in life and death as it liketh you. Cast 
up the curtain and look how it is." 

And when the knight saw verily that she was so fair and eke 
so young, for joy he caught her in his two arms, his heart bathed 
in a bath of bliss. A thousand times in succession he gan kiss 
her; and she obeyed him in everything, that might do him pleas- 
ure or gladness. And thus they live all their lives in perfect joy; 
and Jesu Christ send us husbands meek, young and lusty, and 
grace to outlive them that we wed. And eke I pray Jesu to 
shorten their days that will not be governed by their wives; and 
unto old and angry niggards God send soon a very pestilence. 

Here endeih the Wife's Tale of Bath. 


The Clerk's Prologue 

CLERK of Oxford," said our host, "ye ride as shy 
and still as a maid newly wedded and sitting at the board. 
I have heard never a sound from your tongue this day. 
I trow ye study about some sophism; but Solomon saith: 'Every 
thing hath its time.' For God's sake be of better cheer; this is 
no time to ponder. Tell us some merry tale, by your faith; for 
the man that is entered into a game he needs must agree unto 
the terms of the game. But preach not as friars do in Lent, 
to make us weep for our old sins, nor so as to put us to sleep with 
thy tale. Tell us some merry thing of adventures. Your terms, 
your colours and your figures of logic keep them in store till 
so be ye may endite in high style, as when men write to kings. 
Speak at this time I pray you so plain that we may understand 
what ye say." 

This worthy clerk answered courteously: "Host," quoth he, 
"I am under your rod; ye have the governance of us at this time, 
and therefore will I render you obedience as far, certainly, as 
reason asketh. I will tell you a tale which I learned at Padua 
from a worthy clerk, as his words and his work have proved 
him. He is dead now and nailed in his chest. I pray God give 
peace to his soul! 

"Francis Petrarch was the name of this clerk, the laureate 
poet whose sweet rhetoric illumined all Italy with poetry, as 
Linian did with philosophy or law or some other special art. 
But death, that will not suffer us to dwell here but, as it were, the 



twinkling of an eye, hath slain both of them ; in like wise must he 
slay all of us. 

"But to tell forth as I began of this worthy clerk that taught 
me this tale, I say that first ere he writeth the body of his tale he 
enditeth with high style a proem, in the which he describeth 
Pemond and the country of Saluces and speaketh of Apennine, 
the high hills that be the bounds of west Lombardy; and in 
special of Mount Vesulus, where from a small spring the Po 
taketh its rise and source, ever increasing in its flow eastward 
toward Emelia, Ferrare and Venice. All of which were a long 
thing to describe. And truly, in my judgment, methinketh it 
an impertinent thing, save that he wisheth to introduce his sub- 
ject. But this is his tale, which ye may hear." 


The Clerk's Tale 

Here beginneth the Tale of the Clerk of Oxford. 

ON the west side of Italy, at the foot of Vesulus the cold, 
there is a lusty plain abounding in all good cheer, where 
thou mayst view many a tower and town that were 
founded in the time of our forefathers, and many another 
delectable sight, and Saluces was the name of this noble country. 
A marquis was whilom lord of it, as were his worthy elders before 
him, and all his lieges were obedient and ready to his hand, 
both low and high. Thus he liveth in delight and hath done 
long, beloved and dreaded, through fortune's favour, both of his 
lords and of his commons. Of lineage he was eke the gentlest 
born in Lombardy, fair of person, strong, young, and full of 
courtesy and of honour; discreet enough to govern his country, 
save in some matters wherein he was at fault; and Walter was 
this young lord's name. I blame him in this, that he considered 
not what might befall him in time to come, but all his thought 
was on present pleasure, as to hawk and hunt far and near; well 
nigh all other cares he let slide, and eke what was worst of all 
for naught that might hap, would he wed a wife. That one point 
his people bare so grievously that they went to him on a day in 
a flock, and one of them, because that he was the wisest of lore, 
or else that the marquis would most willingly hear him tell what 



the people thought, or else that he could discourse the best of 
such a thing, he said to the marquis as ye shall hear : 

"O noble marquis, as oft as there is need that we tell unto 
you our heaviness, your humanity giveth us assurance and cour- 
age. Permit now, lord, of your grace, that we lament unto you 
with piteous heart, and let not your ears disdain my voice. 
Although I have naught to do with this matter more than another 
man hath that is here, yet as ye, my dear lord, have alway showed 
me your grace and favour, I dare the better ask of you a little 
while of audience, to show our request, and do ye, my lord, even 
as it liketh you. For certes so pleasing to us be ye and all your 
work and ever have been, lord, that we could not ourselves devise 
how we might live in more felicity, save in one thing, lord, that, 
if it be your will, it might please you to be a wedded man; then 
were your people utterly in heart's content. Bow your neck 
under that blissful yoke of sovereignty, not of servitude, which 
men call spousal or wedlock ; and think, lord, amongst your wise 
thoughts, how in sundry fashion our days pass, for though we 
sleep, or wake, roam or ride, time fleeth aye, it will wait for 
no man. And though as yet your green youth flowereth, in 
creepeth age alway, as still as a stone, and death menaceth young 
and old, and smiteth in each estate, for none escapeth ; and as cer- 
tain as we all know that we shall die, so uncertain be we all of that 
day when death shall betide us. Accept then the loyal meaning 
of us, that never yet refused your behest, and lord, if ye will 
assent, we will choose you a wife in short time, born of the 
gentlest and the highest of all this land, so that, as we believe, 
it ought to seem an honour to God and to you. Deliver us out 
of all this anxious fear, and wed a wife, for high God's sake; 
for if as God forbid it should so befall that through your 



death your lineage should cease, and a strange successor should 
take your heritage, oh, woe were us alive! Wherefore we pray 
you right soon to wed!" 

Their meek prayer and their piteous look made the heart 
of the marquis to have pity. "Mine own people dear," quoth 
he, "ye would constrain me to what I never thought ere now. 
I rejoiced in my liberty; seldom is it found in marriage. Where 
till now I was free, I should enter into servitude. Natheless 
I see your loyal meaning and trust in your wit, and ever have 
done; wherefore of my free consent I will wed me, as soon as 
ever I may. Yet though ye have but now offered to choose me 
a wife, I release you of that choice, and pray you to stint of that 
offer. For God wot that children oft be unlike their worthy 
elders before them. Goodness cometh all of God, not of the 
strain of which they be engendered and born. I trust in God's 
goodness and therefore I commit to him my marriage and mine 
estate and my repose ; he may do as he list. Let me alone in the 
choosing of my wife ; that charge I will take upon mine own back. 
But I pray you, and charge you upon your souls, that what- 
soever wife I take, ye promise me to honour her, while her life 
may endure, in word and work, here and everywhere, as she were 
an emperor's daughter. Furthermore ye shall swear this, that 
ye shall neither contend nor grumble against my choice; for 
sith I am to forego my liberty at your request, where my 
heart is set, there, as I hope for heaven, will I wive; and 
unless ye will assent to this, I pray you speak no more of the 

With hearty will, they swore and assented to all this; no 
wight said nay; and they besought him of his grace, ere they 
went that he would grant them a certain day for his espousal, 



as early as ever he could; for somewhat yet the people feared 
lest this marquis would wed no wife in spite of all. 

He granted them such day as liked him, on which he would 
surely be wedded, and said he did this at their request; and 
they, with humble mind, all kneeling full reverently upon their 
knees, thanked him with all humility, and thus they were satis- 
fled of their desire, and home they went again. Thereupon he 
commanded his officers to provide for the festival, and gave such 
charge to his household knights and squires as he list to lay upon 
them; and they obey his commandments; and each doth all his 
diligence that the nuptials might be splendid. 

Explicit prima pars. 
Incipit secunda pars. 

Not far from that lordly palace where this marquis pur- 
posed his marriage, stood a hamlet, pleasant of site, in which 
poor folk had their beasts and their abode, and took sustenance 
from their labour according as the earth gave them of its plenty. 
Amongst these poor folk dwelt a man that was held the very poor- 
est; but high God can sometime send his grace into a little ox's- 
stall ; Janicula was his name, and he had a daughter full fair to 
behold, and this young maiden was called Grisildis. But if men 
speak of the beauty of virtue, then was she one of the fairest under 
the sun, for she was fostered in poverty; no lustful pleasure 
had stirred her heart. Ofter of the well than of the cask she 
drank, and in obedience to virtue she knew much of labour but 
naught of idle ease. But though this maid was tender in years, 
yet in her virgin breast was enclosed a ripe and staid spirit; and 
with great reverence and love, she cherished her old, poor father. 



While she watched her few sheep in the field, she would do her 
spinning; she would not be idle till she slept. And when she 
came homeward, she would cull ofttimes roots and herbs, which 
she shred and seethed for their living, and she made her bed 
full hard; and aye she sustained her father's life with all com- 
pliance and diligence that a child may perform to honour her 

Upon this simple maid, Grisildis, the marquis full oft set 
his eye as haply he rode a-hunting; and when it chanced that he 
beheld her, he cast not his eyes upon her with wanton look of folly, 
but in serious wise he would oft peruse her face, commending 
her womanhood in his heart, and eke her virtue, surpassing any 
other of so young age, as well in look as in deed; for though 
the people have no great insight into virtue, he considered full 
well what men said of her goodness, and determined that he would 
wed her only, if ever he should wed. 

The day of the wedding came, but no wight could tell what 
woman it should be ; for which marvel many a man wondered and 
said, when he was in private, "Will not our lord leave his folly? 
Will he not wed? Alas, alas the time! Wherefore will he so 
beguile himself and us?" Natheless this marquis hath had rings 
made and brooches of gems, set in azure and gold, for Grisildis' 
sake; and he took the measure of her clothing by a maid like to 
her of height, and eke of all other adornments that pertain unto 
such a wedding. 

The time of undern approacheth of the day when this wedding 
should betide, and all the palace was arrayed, both chambers 
and hall, each in its degree. There mayst thou behold servants' 
offices stuffed with abundance of daintiest victual that may be 
found as far as utmost Italy. This royal marquis, richly arrayed, 



In company with the young knights of his retinue, and the lords 
and ladies that were bidden unto the spousals, with sound of 
various melody and in festal wise, held the straight way unto the 
village of which I told. Grisildis, full innocent, God wot, that 
all this festivity was devised for her, is gone to fetch water at a 
well, and cometh home as fast as she may, for she had heard 
it said how that same morn the marquis should wed, and if she 
might, she fain would see some of that procession. She thought, 
"I will stand in our doorway, with other maidens that be my 
fellows, and see the marchioness, and therefore I will try, as 
soon as I may, to do my labour at home, and then at leisure I 
may behold her, if she take this way unto the castle." And as 
she stepped over her threshold, the marquis came and gan to 
call her, and anon she set down her water-pot beside the threshold 
in the stall of an ox, and down she fell on her knees, and kneeled 
still with serious countenance till she had heard what was the 
lord's wish. 

The thoughtful marquis spake to this maid full soberly and 
said in this wise: "Where is your father, Grisilde?" And she, 
with reverence and humble mien, answered, "Lord, he is ready 
here." And she went in without longer tarrying, and fetched 
her father to the marquis. He took then this old man by the 
hand, and when he had led him aside, said thus: "Janicula, I 
cannot longer conceal the delight of my heart. If thou vouche- 
safe, whatsoever befall, I will, before I go, take thy daughter 
to my wife for as long as she shall live. Thou lovest me I wot 
it well and art my true liegeman born, and all that liketh me 
I dare to say liketh thee, and therefore tell me specially that 
point whereof I spoke even now, whether thou wilt consent to 
take me for thy son-in-law?" 



These sudden tidings so astonished this man that he waxed 
red, abashed, and stood quaking ; scarce could he speak and only 
these words: "Lord," quoth he, "my willing is as ye will, nor will 
I aught against your liking; ye be my dear lord; do in this 
matter right as ye list." 

"Yet," quoth this marquis softly, "I desire that in thy 
chamber I, thou and she may have a conference, and wottest 
thou why? Because I would ask if it be her will to become my 
wife and govern herself after my desire; and all this shall be 
done in thy presence; I will speak naught out of thy hearing." 

And while they were in the chamber about their covenant 
which ye shall hear afterward, the people came without the 
house, and marvelled how honourably and heedfully she kept 
her dear father. But Grisildis might well wonder without end, 
for never before saw she such a sight. It is no wonder she was 
astonished to see so great a guest enter there; never had she 
been accustomed to such guests; wherefore her face looked full 
pale. But briefly to pursue this story, these be the words that 
the marquis spoke to this true, faithful, gentle maid. 

"Grisilde," he said, "ye shall understand well that it pleaseth 
your father and me that I wed you, and eke, as I suppose, it may 
well be that ye too will it so; but these questions I ask first, 
whether, sith it is done so hastily, ye will assent or else deliberate. 
I say this: be ye ready with good heart to perform all my 
pleasure, so that I may freely, as seemeth me best, cause you 
to laugh or to grieve; and do ye promise never, day or night to 
grumble? and eke when I say 'y ea ' n t * sav ' nav / neither by 
word nor by frowning countenance? Swear this, and here I 
swear our espousal." 

Wondering at these words and quaking for fear, she said: 



"Lord, unfit and unworthy am I for that honour which ye bid me ; 
but as ye yourself will, even so will I. And I swear here that 
never willingly in act nor in thought will I disobey you; rather 
would I be dead, though I were loath to die." "This is enough, 
Grisilde mine," quoth he; and he goeth forth with full sober 
cheer out at the door, and she came after, and in this manner 
he spoke to the people: "This is my wife, that standeth here; 
let whosoever loveth me honour her, I pray, and love her; there 
is no more to tell you." 

And that she should bring naught of her old gear into his 
house, he commanded women to unclothe her right there ; whereat 
these ladies were not right glad to handle her clothes, which she 
wore. Natheless they have clothed this bright maid all new 
from head to foot. They combed her hair, that lay full rudely 
untressed, and with their slender fingers they set a crown upon 
her head, and adorned her with jewels, great and small; why 
should I make a tale of her array? The people scarce knew her 
for her beauty, when she was transfigured with such richness. 

This marquis hath espoused her with a ring, brought for 
that purpose, and then set her upon a snow-white horse that 
ambled gently, and with joyful folk that accompanied and that 
came forth to meet them, conveyed her unto the palace, without 
longer tarrying; and thus they spent the day in revelry, till 
the sun gan sink. And briefly to pursue this tale, I say that 
God of his grace hath sent such favour unto this new marchioness, 
that it seemed not of likelihood that she was born and bred so 
rudely as in a cot or an ox-stall, but nourished in an emperor's 
palace. To every wight she waxed so dear and worshipful that 
the folk where she was born, who had known her year by year 
from her birth, scarce believed it was she, but durst have vowed 



that she was no daughter to Janicula; for it seemed to them 
she was another creature. For though she was ever virtuous, 
she increased in such excellence of virtues, set in noble gracious- 
ness, and was so discreet and fair of speech, so benign and so 
worthy of respect, and could so take unto herself the people's 
heart, that every wight loved her that looked on her face. Not 
only in Saluces was the goodness of her name published, but eke 
thereabout in many a region; if one spake well of her, another 
said the like; and the fame of her noble goodness so spread 
that men and women, both young and old, went to Saluces to 
look upon her. 

Thus Walter lowly wedded (nay, royally, with honour and 
good fortune) liveth at home in happiness and the peace of God, 
and of outward blessings he had enough; and because he saw 
that virtue was oft hid under low degree, his folk held their 
lord a prudent man, and that is seen full seldom. This Grisildis 
understood not only the performance of womanly home-duties, 
but eke, when the case required, she could serve the public good; 
there was no discord, rancour, nor grief in all that land that 
she could not appease, and wisely bring all to rest and content- 
ment. Though her husband were absent, and high folk or others 
of her country were wroth, she would reconcile them. Such 
wise and ripe words she had, and judgments of such equity, that 
men deemed she was sent from heaven to save people and to 
amend every wrong. 

Not long after Grisildis was wedded, she bore a daughter, 
although she would liefer have borne a man-child. Thereof this 
marquis was glad, and eke the folk, for though a maid-child 
had come first, she might in likelihood attain unto a man-child, 
sith she was not barren. 



Explicit secunda pars. 
Incipit tercia pars. 

It befell, as many times it befalleth, that when this child 
had been suckled but a short while, this marquis so longed in his 
heart to try his wife to learn her steadfastness, that he might 
not expel from his heart this strange desire ; needlessly, God wot, 
he planned to affray her. He had tested her enough ere this 
and found her ever good; what needeth it for to tempt her ever 
more and more? Though some men praise it for subtle wit, as for 
me, I say that it ill fitteth a man to try his wife, and to put her 
in anguish and fear, when there is no need. To which end the 
marquis wrought in this manner: At night, where she was lying, 
he came alone, with stern face and look full troubled, and said 
thus: " Grisilde, that day in which I took you out of your pov- 
erty and put you in high noblesse, ye have not forgotten that, as 
I ween. I say, Grisilde, that this present dignity in which I have 
put you, maketh you not forgetful, I ween, in spite of any weal 
which ye may now have, that I took you in poor estate and full 
low. Give heed unto every word that I say to you ; there is none 
that heareth it but we twain. Ye wot well yourself how ye came 
into this house, it is not long since, and though ye be pleasing 
and dear to me, ye be not so unto my gentles; they say it is 
great shame and woe unto them to be subjects and vassals of 
thee, that comest of a small village. And especially since thy 
daughter was born have they spoken these words; but I desire 
to live my life in rest and peace with them, as before ; I may not, 
in this case, be unmoved by them; I must do with thy daughter 
for the best, not as I would but as it pleaseth my people. Yet 
full loath am I, God wot, to do this, and without your knowledge 



I will not, but natheless this is my wish, that ye give me your 
consent unto this thing. Show now that patience which ye 
promised and sware unto me in your home that day when our 
marriage was made." 

When she had heard all this, she changed not in word or look 
or countenance; she appeared not even grieved, but said, "Lord, 
all lieth in your pleasure ; my child and I be yours all, with heart- 
felt obedience, and ye may save or destroy your own; do after 
your own will. So may God have my soul as nothing that pleaseth 
you may displease me; and I desire to have naught, and dread 
to lose naught, save only you. This will is in my heart, and 
shall ever be. Not death nor length of time may remove it, nor 
change me to another temper." 

Glad was this marquis of her answer, yet he feigned as he were 
not so ; all dreary was his look when he went out of the chamber ; 
and ere long he hath privily told unto a man all his purpose, 
and sent him to his wife. 

This trusty man was an officer of his whom oft he had 
proved faithful in great things, and to such folk eke things bad 
may be entrusted safely. The lord knew well that he loved and 
feared him; and when this officer wist the will of his lord, into 
the chamber he stalked, full quietly. "Madame," he said, "ye 
must forgive me though I do the thing to which I am constrained; 
ye be so wise that ye know full well the behests of a lord may 
not be shunned; they may well be lamented or bewailed, but a 
man must needs bow unto their pleasure ; and so will I ; there is 
no more to say. This child I am commanded to take" and no 
more he spoke, but caught the child out of her arms all pitilessly 
and gan make as though he would slay it ere he departed. 
Grisildis must needs suffer all and consent; and as a lamb she 



sitteth quiet and meek and let this cruel officer perform his will. 
Ill-boding was the ill-fame of this man; ill-boding his face and 
eke his words, ill-boding the time in which he did this. Alas! 
her daughter whom she loved so she weened he would have 
slain it right then. Natheless she neither wept nor sighed, con- 
senting to what pleased the marquis. But at last she spake and 
meekly prayed the officer, by his worth and gentle blood, that 
she might kiss her little child ere it died. And with full sad face 
she laid it in her bosom and gan kiss it, and lulled it, and after 
blessed it. And thus she said in her gentle voice: "Farewell, my 
child, I shall see thee nevermore ; but sith I have marked thee with 
the cross, blessed mayst thou be of that Father which died for 
us upon a cross of wood. Thy soul, little child, I commit to him, 
for this night for my sake shalt thou die." 

I trow for a nurse it had been hard to see this piteous sight. 
Well then might a mother have cried "Alas!" Natheless she was 
so steadfast that she endured all the pain, and said meekly to 
the officer, "Have here again your little young maiden; go 
now and do my lord's bidding. But one thing of your grace 
will I pray you, that, unless my lord forbade you, ye at least bury 
this little body in some spot where no beasts nor birds may rend 
it." But he would speak no word in answer, and took the child 
and went his way. 

This officer came again to his lord, and told him of Grisildis' 
words and look, point for point, and gave the child to him. Some- 
what ruthful was this lord, but natheless he held to his purpose, 
as lords do when they will have their will ; and he bade his officer 
that he should privily wind and wrap this child full soft with all 
tender care, and carry it in a coffer or in a blanket, but on pain 
of losing his head that no man should know of his purpose, nor 



whence he came nor whither he went ; and that he should take it to 
his dear sister, at Bologna, who was countess of Panago, and 
make known to her this matter, and beseech her do her diligence 
to foster this child in all gentleness; and for aught that might 
befall, he bade her hide from every wight whose child it 

The officer goeth and fulfilleth this thing; but now return we 
to this marquis, for now he imagineth full busily whether he 
might perceive by his wife's look, or by her words, that she was 
changed; but ever he found her alike steadfast and gentle. In 
every wise as glad, as humble she was, as busy in service and in 
love as she wont to be; nor of his daughter spake she a word. 
For all her pain, no strange look did she ever chance to show, 
nor ever named she her daughter's name, in earnest or in sport. 

Explicit tercia pars. 
Sequitur pars quarta. 

In this wise there passed four years ere she was with child; 
but then, as God would, she bore a man-child by this Walter full 
gracious and fair to look upon; and when the folk told it to the 
father, not only he but all his country were merry for this child, 
and they thanked and praised God. 

When it was two years old and taken from the breast of its 
nurse, this marquis on a day caught yet another whim to try his 
wife once again, if he might. O needless was she tried! But 
wedded men know no moderation when they find a patient crea- 
ture. "Wife, ye have heard ere this," quoth the marquis, "how 
my people beareth ill our marriage, and especially now, since my 
son was born, it is worse than ever before ; the murmuring slayeth 



my heart and my spirit, the complaint cometh so bitter to mine 
ears. Thus they say : 'When Walter is gone, then shall the blood 
of Janicle succeed and be our lord, for we have none other.' Such 
words, in truth, my people say; and good heed ought I to take 
of such murmuring, for certainly I dread such thoughts though 
they be not spoken plainly in my hearing. I will live in peace if 
I may; wherefore I am utterly determined to serve this child 
privily even as by night I served his sister. Of this I warn you 
that ye may not, on a sudden, go beside yourself for woe; be 
patient, thereof I pray you." "I have said," quoth she, "and 
shall ever say thus: I wish for nothing and I refuse nothing, 
save in sooth as ye list; it grieveth me not at all though my 
daughter and my son be slain, at your command that is to say 9 
I have had no share of my two children save first sickness, and 
afterward pain and woe. Ye be our lord, do with your own things 
ever as ye list; ask no counsel of me. For as I left at home 
all my clothing when I first came to you, even so left I my will 
and all my freedom, and took your clothing; wherefore I pray 
you do your pleasure; I will obey your wish. And certes if I 
had prescience of your will ere ye tell it me, I would perform 
it without neglect; but now that I wot your desire, firmly and 
stably I receive it; for if I wist that my death would gladden 
you, right gladly would I die to please you. Death weigheth 
naught in comparison with your love." And when this marquis 
saw the constancy of his wife, he cast down his two eyes, and 
wondered how she could suffer all this grief in patience. And 
forth he goeth with a dreary countenance but unto his heart 
it was a full great delight. 

This ugly officer, in the same wise as he took her daughter, 
even so, or worse (if men can imagine worse), hath snatched 



her son, that was full fair. And ever alike in the same manner 
she was so patient that she made no sign of sorrow, but kissed 
her son, and afterward marked him with the cross ; and thereupon 
she prayed the officer that, if he might, he would bury her little 
son in the earth, to save his tender limbs, delicate to see, from 
birds and from beasts. But she could get no answer from him. 
He went his way, as though he recked not; but tenderly he 
brought the child to Bologna. 

This marquis wondered at her patience ever more and more, 
and if he had not ere this known in sooth that she loved her 
children perfectly, he would have weened that of subtlety or 
malice or cruel mood she suffered this with unchanged visage. 
But truly he knew well that next himself she loved her children 
best of all; and now I would fain ask of women if these tests 
might not suffice? What more could a ruthless husband invent 
to test her wifehood and steadfastness, and he continuing ever 
in cruelty? But there be folk of such temper that, when they 
have conceived a certain purpose, they cannot stint of their 
intention, but even as if they were bound to a stake, they will 
not desist from that first purpose. Right so this marquis hath 
fully determined to try his wife, as at first he was disposed. He 
waiteth to see whether, by word or look, her heart had changed 
toward him, but never could he find variance; she was ever one 
in heart and visage; and aye the older she waxed, the more true 
to him, if that were possible, was she in love, and the more pains- 
taking. Whereby it thus seemed that there was but one will 
in them both; for as it pleased Walter, the same was also her 
pleasure; and God be thanked, all happed for the best. She 
showed well that a wife should not, for any disquiet that she may 
suffer, will anything save as her husband willeth. 



The slander spread wide and oft concerning Walter that 
because he had wedded a poor woman, he had of cruel heart 
murdered privily both his children. Such murmuring was gen- 
eral among the people ; no wonder, for no word came to their ears 
but that the children were murdered. So that, though his people 
before had loved him well, the slanderous report of his infamy 
made them to hate him. Murderer is an hateful name. Natheless 
for earnest nor for sport would he stint of his cruel purpose ; all 
his thought was set to tempt his wife. 

When his daughter was twelve years old, he sent to the court 
of Rome, that were privily informed of his will, a messenger, 
commanding them to frame such bulls as might suffice for his 
cruel purpose, declaring how the pope bade him, for his people's 
repose, to wed another, if he list. I say he bade them counterfeit 
the pope's bulls, declaring that he had leave by the pope's dis- 
pensation to put away his first wife, thereby to stint the rancour 
and dissention betwixt his people and him; thus said the bull, 
and they made it known at large. The rude people weened full 
well and no wonder that it was even thus. When these tid- 
ings came to Grisildis, I deem her heart was full of woe; but 
she, this humble creature, evermore constant, was ready to suffer 
all the adversity of fortune, attending ever his will and pleasure 
to whom, as to her very all in all in this world, she was given 
heart and soul. But, that I may tell this story shortly, this 
marquis hath written a private letter in which he sheweth his 
purpose, and hath sent it secretly to Bologna. Much he prayed 
the earl of Panago, who was wedded to his sister, to bring home 
again his two children, openly in honourable estate. But one 
thing he prayed him most, that he should tell no wight, though 
men should ask, whose children they were ; but say that the maiden 



should be wedded anon unto the marquis of Saluces. And as 
this earl was prayed, so he did ; for on the day appointed he went 
forth toward Saluces, and many a lord eke in rich array, to es- 
cort this maiden and her young brother riding beside her. Ar- 
rayed full of bright gems was this fresh maid for her marriage; 
her brother, who was seven years old, arrayed eke full fresh as 
became his youth ; and thus amid great noblesse and glad cheer, 
shaping their journey toward Saluces, they ride forth from day 
to day. 

Explicit quarta pars. 
Sequitur quinta pars. 

In the meanwhile, according to his wicked habit, in order 
to test his wife even further to the uttermost proof of her spirit, 
and fully to have knowledge and experience whether she were 
steadfast as formerly, this marquis on a day in open audience, 
spake to her full rudely these words: "Certes, Grisilde, I took 
great pleasure in wedding you for your goodness, your fidelity 
and your obedience, though not for your lineage or for your 
riches; but now that I consider it well, I know in very 
sooth that there is sundry and great servitude in the estate 
of a lord. I may not do as every ploughman; my people 
crieth out day after day and constraineth me to take another 
wife; and eke the pope, to assuage the rancour, giveth, I 
dare affirm, his consent thereto; and this much truly I will tell 
you, that my new wife is upon her way hither. Be strong of 
heart and straightway depart from her place, and take again 
that dower which ye brought me I grant that of my favour 
and return to your father's house. No man alway may have 



prosperity. Endure with even heart, I advise you, the strokes 
of fortune." And she answered again patiently, "My lord, I 
know and knew alway that betwixt your magnificence and my 
poverty no wight can make comparison; thereof is no doubt. I 
never deemed me in any manner worthy to be your wife, no, nor 
your chambermaid. And in this house where ye made me a 
lady I take for my witness the high God, may he so surely 
comfort my soul! I never held me lady nor mistress, but the 
humble servant of your worship, above every worldly creature, 
and that shall I ever, while my life may last. That ye of your 
goodness have held me so long in honour and noble estate where 
I was not worthy to be for that I thank God and you, and 
to God I pray that it may be requited unto you; there is no 
more to say. Unto my father will I gladly depart and dwell 
with him unto my life's end. Where I was fostered a little child, 
there till I die will I lead my life a widow clean in body, in 
heart and in all. For sith I gave unto you my maidenhood and 
am in sooth your faithful wife, God shield that I, the wife of 
such a lord, should take another man to husband and to mate. 
And God of his favour grant you weal and prosperity of your 
new wife, for I will gladly yield her my place, in which I was 
wont to be full blissful; for sith it pleaseth you that I shall 
go, my lord, that whilom wast all my heart's content, I will go 
when ye list. But though ye proffer me such dowry as I first 
brought, I have well in mind it was but my wretched clothes and 
uncomely, which it were hard now for me to light upon. O 
good God! how gentle and how kind ye seemed by your speech 
and your look the day that our marriage was made ! But it is said 
truly at least I find it so, for in me it is proved indeed 'love 
grown old is not as when it was new.' But certes, for no adversity, 




lord, even though it were death, shall it hap that ever I repent, 
in word or work, that I gave you my whole heart. My lord, ye 
wot that in my father's house ye caused me to be stripped of my 
poor garb, and clad me of your grace richly. Naught else I 
brought to you, in sooth, but faith and nakedness and maiden- 
hood; and here I return again my clothing, and my wedding- 
ring forevermore. The rest of your jewels, I dare promise, 
be ready within your chamber. Naked I came forth of my 
father's house, and naked must I return. And yet I hope it 
be not your intent that I go smockless out of your palace. Ye 
could not do so dishonourable a thing as suffer that bosom, 
in which your children rested, to be seen all bare before the people 
in my walking;^ wherefore I beseech you, let me not go my 
way like a worm. Remember, my own dear lord, I was your wife, 
though unworthy. In guerdon of my maidenhood, therefore, 
which I brought hither but may not bear hence, vouchesafe to 
give me, as my meed, only such a smock as I was wont to wear, 
wherewith I may wrap the bosom of her that was your wife; 
and here I take my leave of you, my own lord, lest I trouble 
you more." 

"The smock that thou hast on thy back," quoth he, "let it 
abide and bear it with thee." Yet scarce could he speak that 
word, but went his way for ruth and for pity. Before the folk 
she strippeth herself and in her smock, with head and foot bare, 
she is gone forth toward her father's house. 

The folk, weeping, follow her along her way, and aye they 
curse fortune as they go; but she kept her eyes dry from weep- 
ing, nor at any time spake a word. Her father, that anon heard 
these tidings, curseth the day that nature framed him a living 
wight. For doubtless this old man had ever been suspicious of 



her marriage; for he deemed ever since it took place that when 
the lord had fulfilled his pleasure, he would think it disparage- 
ment to his estate to stoop so low, and would renounce her as 
soon as ever he might. Hastily he goeth toward his daughter, 
for by noise of the folk he knew of her coming, and as best he 
might he covered her with her old coat, full sorrowfully weeping ; 
but he could not put it on her, for the cloth was rude and older 
by many a day than at her marriage. 

Thus for a certain time dwelleth with her father this flower 
of wifely patience, in such wise that neither by her words nor her 
face, neither before the folk nor out of their sight, she showed 
that wrong had been done her, nor had she, by her countenance, 
any recollection of her high estate. No wonder is it, for in her 
noble estate her spirit ever was entirely humble. No tender 
mouth, no dainty desires, no pomp, no simulation of royalty, 
were hers; but she was full of patient gentleness, aye discreet, 
prideless, honourable, and ever to her husband steadfast and 
meek. Men speak of Job and most for his humility, as clerks 
when they list can write well, especially of men, but in soothfast- 
ness, though clerks praise women but little, there can no man 
acquit himself in humility as a woman can, nor can be half so 
faithful as women be, unless it hath befallen newly. 

From Bologna is come this earl of Panago, the rumour of 
which spread among high and low, and in the ears of all the 
people it was made known that he had brought with him a new 
marchioness, in such pomp and wealth, that never before with 
human eyes was there seen so noble an array in West Lombardy. 

The marquis, who knew and contrived all this, ere the earl 
was come, sent for that innocent poor Grisildis; and she, with 
humble spirit and glad visage, not with any swelling thoughts 



in her heart, came at his behest and fell on her knees and rever- 
ently and prudently greeted him. "Grisilde," quoth he, "my will 
is, that this maiden whom I shall wed be received to-morrow in 
my house as royally as is possible, and that every wight be hon- 
oured after his degree in his place at table, in attendance and in 
festal pleasure, as best I can devise. I have indeed no women 
capable of arraying the chambers in the manner which I would 
have; and I would fain, therefore, that all such governance were 
thine; thou knowest of old eke all my pleasure in such a thing. 
Though thine array be bad and ill to look upon, do at least 
thy duty." "Not only, my lord," quoth she, "am I glad to do 
this your pleasure, but I desire also to serve and please you 
according to my station, without fainting, and shall evermore; 
nor ever, for weal or woe, shall the spirit within my heart stint 
to love you best with all my true will." 

And with that word she gan to prepare the house, to set 
the tables and make the beds, and took pains to do all in her 
might, praying the chambermaids for God's love to hasten, and 
busily shake and sweep; and she, the most serviceable amongst 
them, hath arrayed his hall and every chamber. 

About undern gan alight this earl, that brought with him 
these two noble children, for which the people ran to gaze on their 
array, so richly were they beseen; and then folk begn to say 
among themselves that Walter was no fool, though it pleased him 
to change his wife, sith it was for the best. For, as they all 
deemed, she was fairer and more tender of age than Grisildis, 
and fairer fruit and more gracious should be bred of them, 
because of her high descent; her brother eke was so fair of face 
that the people took delight to see them, commending now the 
action of the marquis. 



Auctor. "O stormy people ! ever unstable and faithless ! Aye 
undiscerning and changeful as a weather-cock, delighting ever 
in new rumours, for aye like the moon ye wax and wane, ever 
full of idle prating, not worth a farthing; your judgment is 
false, your constancy proveth naught; a full great fool is he 
that belie veth in you." 

Thus said serious folk in that city when the people gazed 
from high and low, glad for the mere novelty to have a new 
lady of their town. No more now will I speak of this, but to 
Grisildis again I will address myself, and tell of her constancy 
and her diligence. 

Full busy was Grisildis in all that pertained to the feast. 
She was not abashed of her clothing, though it was rude and 
eke somewhat torn; but with glad cheer she is gone to the gate 
with the other folk to greet the marchioness, and after that busieth 
herself once more. With such glad cheer she receiveth her guests, 
and so properly, each after his rank, that no man discerneth a 
fault; but aye they wonder who she may be, that is clad in such 
poor array yet knoweth so much of ceremony, and full highly 
they praise her discretion. In the meanwhile she stinted not to 
commend this maid and eke her brother, with all her heart and full 
kindly, so well that no man could praise them better. 

But at last, when these lords thought to sit down to meat, 
the marquis gan summon Grisildis, as she was busy in the hall. 

"Grisilde," quoth he, as it were in sport, "how liketh thee my 
wife and her beauty?" "Right well, my lord," quoth she; "in 
good faith, I saw never a fairer. I pray God let her prosper; 
and even so I hope he will grant to you great joy unto the end 
of your life. One thing I beseech and eke warn you, that ye sting 
not with tormenting this tender maid, as ye have done unto 



others; for she hath been more tenderly fostered, and in my 
belief she could not suffer adversity as could a poorly fostered 

And when Walter saw her fortitude and glad cheer and 
how she bare no malice, and that he so often had done offence 
to her, and she aye stable and constant as a wall, continuing 
her innocence ever throughout, this cruel marquis gan incline 
his heart to take pity upon her wifely steadfastness. 

"This is enough, Grisilde mine; be now no more aghast nor 
sorrowful," quoth he. "I have assayed thy faith and thy good- 
ness, in great estate and in lowly garb, as well as ever woman was 
tried. Now know I, dear wife, thy steadfastness." And he 
took her in his arms and gan kiss her. But for wonder she 
marked it not ; she heard not what thing he said to her, but fared 
as she had started out of sleep, till she awaked out of her bewilder- 
ment. "Grisilde," quoth he, "by God that died for us, thou art 
my wife ; I have none other, nor ever had, so God save me ! This 
is thy daughter, that thou supposed to be my wife ; that other, on 
my faith, as I have ever intended, shall be mine heir; verily 
thou borest him in thy body ; at Bologna privily have I kept him. 
Take them to thee again, for now thou mayst not say that thou 
hast lost either of thy two children. And I warn well the folk 
that have said otherwise of me, that I have done this deed for no 
malice nor cruelty, but to test in thee thy womanhood, and not 
God forbid! to slay my children, but to keep them in quiet 
privily till I knew thy temper and all thy heart." 

When she heareth this, she sinketh down in a swoon for 
piteous joy, and after her swoon she calleth both her young 
children unto her, and piteously weeping, embraceth them in 
her arms, and tenderly kissing them, full like a mother, with her 



salt tears she batheth both their hair and their visages. O how 
pitiful it was to see her swooning, and to hear her humble voice! 
"Grammercy, lord," quoth she, "I thank you that ye have saved 
me my children dear! Now I reck not though I die even now; 
sith I stand in your love and in your favour, death mattereth 
not, nor when my spirit may pass. O tender, O dear, O young 
children mine, your woful mother weened evermore that cruel 
hounds or foul vermin had eaten you ; but God of his mercy and 
your gentle father have caused you tenderly to be kept," and in 
that same moment all suddenly she sank on the ground. And 
in her swoon so firmly she holdeth her two children in her caress, 
that only with great pains and skill could they release them 
from her arms. O many a tear ran down upon many a pitying 
face of them that stood near her; scarce could they abide about 
her. Walter maketh her glad and stinteth her sorrow. She 
riseth up abashed from her swoon, and every wight maketh joy 
and festivity unto her, till once more she hath in control her 
countenance. Walter so faithfully waiteth on her pleasure that 
it is rare to see the looks betwixt them both, now they be brought 
together again. 

These ladies, when they saw their time, took her into a chamber 
and stripped her out of her rude array, and in cloth of gold 
that shone brightly, with a crown upon her head set with many a 
rich gem, they brought her into the hall, and there she was 
honoured as she was worthy to be. 

Thus this piteous day had a blissful end, for every man and 
woman did his best to pass the time in mirth and revel, till star- 
light shone in the welkin; for more sumptuous was this feast 
in every man's sight, and greater of cost, than was the revel of 
her marriage. 



Full many a prosperous year these two lived in concord and 
peace, and Walter married his daughter richly unto a lord, one 
of the worthiest of all Italy; and then in peace and content he 
sustained his wife's father in his court till the soul crept out 
of his body. The son of the marquis succeeded to his heritage 
in peace, after his father's day, and was fortunate eke in mar- 
riage, although he put not his wife to great trial. This world, 
it may not be denied, is not so strong as it was in old times; 
hearken therefore what this author saith. 

This story is told not that wives should follow Grisildis in 
humility, for it were insupportable if they did; but that every 
wight, in his own estate, should be constant in adversity as 
Grisildis was; therefore Petrarch telleth this story, which he 
enditeth in high style. For sith a woman was so patient unto a 
mortal man, the more ought we to receive in good part all that 
God sendeth us; for with good reason he may assay that which 
he wrought. But though he tempteth no man whom he hath 
redeemed, as Saint James saith, if ye will read his epistle, yet he 
tryeth folk every day, there is no doubt; and suffereth us to be 
beaten in sundry wise with sharp scourges of adversity, not to 
know our hearts, for certes ere we were born he knew all our 
weakness, but for our discipline ; and all his governance is for our 
best welfare. Let us live then in virtuous submission. 

But, lordings, hearken one word ere I go : it were full hard to 
find nowadays Grisildes two or three in a whole town; for if 
they were put to such tests, the gold of them now hath such 
bad alloys of brass that though the coin be fair to the eye, it would 
break in two rather than bend. Wherefore now, for love of the 
Wife of Bath, whose life and all of her sect may God maintain 
in high mastery (else were it a pity!), I will, with lusty heart 



green and fresh, recite you a song to gladden you, I trow; and 
let us stint of earnest matter. Hearken my song, that saith in 
this wise. 

Lenvoy de Chaucer. 

Grisilde is dead and eke her patience, 

And both interr'd in far Italia's vale; 
For which I cry in open audience 

Let no man be so hardy as to assail 
The patience of his wife, in hope to find 

Grisildis', for so surely he shall fail. 

O noble wives, ye sovereigns of sense, 

Suffer no lowliness your tongues to nail, 
Nor any clerk have cause, or find pretence, 

To write of you so marvellous a tale 
As of Grisilde long-suffering and kind, 

Lest Chichevache devour you, to your bale. 

Ape Echo, that will own no diffidence 

But answereth ever up and down the dale ; 

Be not made fools of for your innocence, 
But sharply wield of governance the flail; 

Imprint full well this lesson in your mind, 
For common profit, sith it may avail. 

Ye archwives, stand alway on your defence, 

Sith as a camel ye be strong and hale, 
And suffer men to do you none offence; 

Ye slender wives, that bend in battle's gale, 
Be terrible as tigers yon in Ind; 

Aye clap as doth a mill-wheel, when ye rail. 



Dread not mankind, do them no reverence, 
For though thy husband armed be in mail, 

The arrows of thy crabbed eloquence 

Shall pierce his armour and his breast impale; 

In jealousy I charge that thou him bind, 

And thou shalt make him couch as doth a quail. 

If thou be fair, go forth where throngs be dense 
To show thy duds and face without a veil; 

If thou be foul, be lavish of expense; 
To find thee lovers follow aye the trail; 

Be aye of cheer as light as leaf i' the wind, 

And let him weep and wring his hands and wail ! 

Here endeih the Clerk of Oxford his Tale. 


The Squire's Tale 

The Squire's Prologue. 

QUIRE, come nearer if ye will and say somewhat of love; 
for certes ye know as much thereof as any man." 

"Nay, sir," quoth he, "but I will say heartily as best 
I know how; for I will not revolt against your wish; I will tell 
a tale. If I speak amiss, have me excused. My will is good; 
and lo! this is my story." 

Here beginneth the Squire's Tale. 

AT Sarray, in Tartary, there dwelt a king, that warred 
against Russia, so that many a doughty man died. This 
noble king was called Cambinskan, and in his time was 
of so great renown that there was nowhere in any land so excel- 
lent a lord. He lacked naught that becometh a king. In the sect 
that he was born to, he obeyed his creed, as he was vowed, and 
thereto he was wise, hardy and rich, ever alike pious and just, 
true of his word, honourable and benign, of spirit steadfast as 
the earth, young, fresh and strong and in arms as ardent as any 
new-made knight of all his house. Of fair person he was, and 
prosperous, and kept alway such royal estate that there was 
nowhere such another as he. This noble king, Cambinskan, this 
Tartar, had on Elpheta, his queen, two sons, of whom the eldest 
was called Algarsyf, the other Cambalo. A daughter he had 



besides, that was the youngest and was named Canacee; but to 
tell you of all her beauty lieth not in my tongue nor in my cun- 
ning. I dare not attempt so high a matter ; mine English is insuffi- 
cient. He must be a surpassing rhetorician, that knoweth the 
colours belonging to his art, who should describe her every whit. 
I am none such; I must speak as I know how. 

It so befell when this Cambinskan hath borne his diadem 
twenty winters, that he bade cry as, I trow, was his yearly 
wont the feast of his nativity throughout his city Sarray, on 
the last Ides of March when they came around. Full joyous and 
clear was Phoebus, the sun, for he was nigh his exaltation in 
Mars' face, and in his mansion in Aries, the sign hot and 
choleric. Full lusty was the weather and mild, so that the birds, 
against the bright sun, what with the season and the young 
green, sang full loud their affections. It seemed they had got 
them shields against the keen, cold sword of winter. 

This Cambinskan, of whom I have spoken to you, with royal 
vestments and diadem sitteth full high on the dais in his palace, 
and holdeth his feast, so sumptuous and rich, that never in this 
world was one like to it. If I should tell the ordinance thereof 
it would occupy a summer's day; it needeth not eke to describe 
the order of their service at every course. I will not tell of their 
strange delicacies, nor of their swans, nor of their hernshaws. 
Besides, in that land, as old knights tell us, some food is 
held full dainty, which in this land men reck of but little. There 
is no man that may report all things. I will not delay you, for 
it is prime, and it should but waste the morning. Therefore I will 
turn again unto my first matter. 

It so befell, after the third course, while this king sitteth 
thus among his noblesse, hearkening his minstrels deliciously play 


,kere c&me a 
uptm a J^tetb of 


before him at the board, that all suddenly in at the hall-door came 
a knight on a steed of brass, and in his hand a broad mirror. 
On his thumb he had a ring of gold, and hanging by his side a 
naked sword, and up he rideth to the high board. In all the hall 
there was uttered no sound for marvel of this knight; but 
busily old and young gan stare on him. This strange knight 
that came thus on a sudden, all armed save his head full richly, 
saluteth king and queen and lords in their order as they sit in the 
hall, with such deep reverence and obeisance, in both speech and 
look, that Gawain, though he were come again out of Faerie, 
with his old courtesy, could not amend him with a word. And 
after this, before the high table, he saith his message with manly 
voice without defect of a syllable, after the form used in his 
language, and that his tale might the more please, as the art of 
speech teacheth them that learn it, his looks accorded with his 
words. Albeit I cannot express his style, nor climb over a stile 
so high, yet I say this: thus much to common understanding 
if so be I have it rightly in mind amounteth all that ever he 

He said: "My liege lord, the King of Araby and of Ind 
saluteth you on this festal day as best he can, and in honour of 
your feast, sendeth you by me, that am your servant, this steed 
of brass, that can easily, in the space of one natural day, that 
is to say, four and twenty hours, bear your body wheresoever ye 
list, without harm to you, in rain or shine, through fair or foul, 
into every place to which your heart willeth to go; or, if ye 
list to fly as high in the air as doth an eagle when he list to soar, 
this same steed shall bear you evermore without harm, though 
ye rest or sleep on his back, till ye be where ye list, and return 
again at the twirling of a pin. He that wrought it understood 



full many a device; he observed many a constellation ere he had 
done his work; and knew many a magic seal and full many a 
bond. Eke this mirror that I have here hath such a might that 
a man may behold in it when there shall befall any adversity 
unto your kingdom, or yourself, and openly who your friend is, 
or foe. And beside all this, if any fair lady hath set her heart 
on any manner of wight, if he be false, she shall see his treason, 
his new love and all his subtlety so openly, that nothing shall 
be hidden. Wherefore, against this lusty summer's tide, he hath 
sent this mirror and ring to my lady Canacee, your excellent 
daughter that is here. 

"The virtue of the ring, if ye will learn, is this: that, if she 
list to wear it upon her thumb, or carry it in her purse, there is 
no fowl flieth under the heaven but she shall understand his 
voice and know plainly and openly his meaning, and answer him 
in his language. And she shall know eke every grass that groweth 
upon root, and to whom it will do cure, however deep and wide 
be his wounds. This naked sword, that hangeth beside me, hath 
such virtue that whatsoever man ye smite, it will cut and pierce 
clean through his armour, were it thick as a branched oak; and 
whatsoever man is wounded by the blow shall never be whole till 
ye list of grace to stroke him with the flat in the spot where 
he is hurt; that is to say, ye must stroke him again with the 
flat of the sword in the wound, and it will close; this is the very 
sooth, without lying; it faileth not while it is in your pos- 

And when this knight hath thus told his tale, he rideth out 
of the hall and lighteth down. His steed, which glittered as the 
sun, standeth in the court, as still as marble. The knight is led 
anon to his chamber, and is unarmed and set at meat. The 



presents be fetched full royally, the mirror and sword, and borne 
anon by certain officers appointed thereto into the high tower; 
and unto Canacee, where she sitteth at the table, this ring is borne 
with ceremony. But in very sooth, the horse of brass may not 
be removed; it standeth as it were glued to the ground. No 
man may pull it out of the place, with any engine of windlass 
or pulley, and with good reason, for they know not the art. 
Therefore they have left it in the place till the knight hath taught 
them how to move it forth, as ye shall hear afterward. 

Great was the press that to and fro swarmeth to gape on 
this horse where it standeth ; for it was as high and as broad and 
long, and as well proportioned for strength, as if it were truly 
a steed of Lombardy; therewith it was as horsely and quick of 
eye, as if it were a noble Apulian courser. For certes, from his 
tail to his ear, not nature nor art could amend him in any degree, 
as all the people weened. But evermore they wondered most how 
it could go and was of brass. It was of Faerie, thought the 
people. Diverse folk deemed diversely. As many heads so many 
wits. They murmured like a swarm of bees, and made expla- 
nations according to their fancies, and said rehearsing these old 
poetic fables it was like the Pegasus, the horse that had wings 
to fly ; or else it was the horse of Synon, the Greek, that brought 
destruction to Troy, as men may read in these old romances. 
"Mine heart," quoth one, "is aye afeard; I trow some men of 
arms be therein, that plan to capture this city. It were good 
that such things were known." Another whispered low to his 
neighbour and said : "He lieth ; it is rather like an apparition made 
by some magic such as jugglers sport with at great feasts." 
Thus they talk and babble of sundry doubts, as unlearned people 
commonly deem of things that be made more subtly than they 



in their ignorance can understand. They be fain to construe a 
thing for the worse. And some of them wondered on the mirror, 
that was borne up into the chief tower of the castle, how men 
might see such things in it. Another answered and said it might 
well be caused naturally by compositions of angles and sly reflec- 
tions, and said that there was such an one in Rome. They 
speak of Vitulon and Alocen and Aristotle, that wrote in their 
lifetimes of curious mirrors and perspective-glasses, as they know 
that have read their books. And others wondered on the sword 
that would pierce through all things; and gan to speak of King 
Thelophus, and of Achilles with his curious spear, for he could 
both heal and harm with it, even in such wise as men might with 
the sword of which ye right now have learned. They speak 
of sundry hardenings of metal, and therewith speak of certain 
drugs, and how and when it should be tempered, which is un- 
known at least unto me. 

Then they speak of Canacee's ring, and all say that none 
of them had ever heard of such a wonder of ring-craft, save 
that Moses and King Solomon had a name for cunning in such 
a thing. Thus say the people and draw apart. But natheless 
some said it was likewise wonderful to make glass of fern-ashes ; 
but because men have known it for so long, therefore ceaseth 
their babbling of it and their marvel; even as some marvel sore 
on the cause of thunder, on ebb and flood, gossamers, mist, and 
all things till the cause is known. Thus they deem and babble 
and imagine till the king riseth from the board. 

Phoebus hath left the angle meridional, and the royal beast, 
the gentle Lion, with his Aldiran, was yet ascending, when 
this Tartar king rose from his board, where he sat aloft. Before 
him goeth the loud minstrelsy till he cometh to his chamber of 



rich hangings, where they play upon diverse instruments, that 
it is like an heaven to hear. Now dance the lusty children of 
Venus, for aloft in the Fish sitteth their lady and looketh on them 
with friendly eye. 

This noble king, this Cambinskan, sitteth high in his throne; 
straightway this strange knight is fetched to him, and on the 
dance goeth with Canacee. Here is the revel and the jollity 
that a dull man cannot describe. He must have known Love 
and his service and been a festive man fresh as May, that should 
describe to you such a sight. Who could tell you the form of 
dances, such rare, fresh faces, such subtle lockings and dissim- 
ulatings for fear of the perceivings of jealous men? No man 
but Launcelot, and he is dead. Therefore I pass over all this 
merriment; I say no more, but leave them in this jollity till folk 
address them to the supper. 

The steward biddeth the spices to be fetched in haste, and the 
wine eke in all this melody. The ushers and squires go and come 
anon with the spices and the wine; men eat and drink, and 
when this is done, as was reason, they wended unto the temple. 
The service done, they all sup by daylight. What needeth to 
rehearse to you the array upon the board? Every man wot well 
that at a king's feast is plenty for high and low, and more 
dainties than be in my knowledge. After supper this noble king 
goeth to see the horse of brass, with all the throng of lords 
and ladies about him. 

Such wondering there was on this horse of brass that never 
since the great siege of Troy, where men also wondered on an 
horse, was there such a wondering as then. But finally the 
king asketh this knight concerning the power and virtue of this 
courser, and prayed him tell the manner of governing him. Anon 



the horse began to trip and dance, when this knight laid hand on 
his rein and said: "Sir, there is no more to say than when ye 
list to ride anywhere ye must twirl in his ear a pin, of which I 
shall tell you betwixt us two. Ye must also tell him by name to 
what place or country ye list to ride. And when ye come where 
ye list to alight, bid him descend and twirl another pin, for therein 
lieth the secret of all the contrivance, and he will descend down and 
do your will, and in that place he will abide ; though all the world 
had sworn the contrary, he shall not be drawn thence nor carried. 
Or if ye list to bid him go thence, twirl this pin, and he will 
straightway vanish out of the sight of all folk, and come again, 
be it by day or by night, when ye list to call him again in such 
wise as I shall say to you full soon betwixt you and me. Ride 
when ye list, there is no more to be done." 

When this noble doughty king was instructed of that knight 
and hath conceived justly in his wit the manner and the form of 
all this contrivance, thus glad and blithe he repaireth to his 
revelry as before. The bridle is borne unto the tower and kept 
among his precious jewels. The horse vanished out of their 
sight, I wot not how; ye get no more of me. And thus in merri- 
ment and joy I leave this Cambinskan at feasting with his lords, 
till well nigh the day began to spring. 

Explicit prima pars. 
Sequitur pars secunda. 

The nurse of digestion, Sleep, gan wink upon them, and 
bade them take thought that much drink and labour will have 
rest, and with yawning mouth he kissed them all, and said it 
was time to lie down, for blood was in supremacy. "Cherish 



blood, nature's friend," quoth he. By twos and threes, they 
thank him yawning, and every wight gan draw to his rest, as 
sleep bade them, and as seemed to them good. I shall not tell 
of their dreams ; full were their heads of f umosity, which causeth 
dreaming, but of that no matter. The more part of them slept 
till fully prime, unless it were Canacee. She was temperate as 
be most women. For she had liberty of her father to go to 
rest soon after it was eve. She list not to grow pale nor to appear 
unfestive on the morrow, and slept her first sleep and then awoke. 
For she took such a joy in her heart both of her wondrous ring 
and her mirror that twenty times she changed hue, and in her 
sleep, for the very remembrance of her mirror, she had a vision. 
Wherefore, ere the sun gan glide upward, she called on her 
mistress, who slept hard by, and said that she list to rise. These 
old women will aye be prudent ; wherefore her mistress answered 
her anon and said: "Madame, whither will ye go thus early? for 
all the folk be abed." "I will arise," quoth she, "for I list no 
longer to sleep ; and walk about." 

Her mistress calleth a great troop of women, and up they 
rise, full ten or twelve; and up riseth fresh Canacee as ruddy 
and bright as the young sun that is voyaged four degrees in 
the Ram. No higher was he when she was ready, and forth 
she walketh quietly in light array, for the sweet lusty season, to 
walk and take her pastime with but five or six of her train. And 
forth in the park she goeth in an alley. The vapour that streamed 
upward from the earth made the sun to seem ruddy and broad; 
but natheless it was so fair a sight that it made all their hearts 
to leap up, what with the season and the morning-time and the 
birds that she heard sing, for right anon by their song she wist 
what they meant, and knew all their thought. 



If the knot for which every tale is recounted be delayed 
till the pleasure of them be cold that have hearkened for it 
long, the savour passeth away more and more for fulsome- 
ness of the prolixity, and for the same reason, methinketh, I 
should come to the knot and make soon an end of their walking. 

Full high amid a withered tree as white as chalk, while Can- 
acee roamed in her pastime, there sat a falcon over her head that 
with piteous voice so gan to cry that of her wail all the wood re- 
sounded. So piteously hath she beaten herself with both her 
wings that the red blood ran all adown the tree whereon she rested. 
And ever alike she cried and screamed, and so stabbed herself with 
her beak, that there is no tiger, nor cruel beast that dwelleth in 
woods, that would not have wept, if he could weep, for pity 
of her so loud she screamed alway. For there was never yet 
a man alive if I could describe this falcon well that heard of 
such another for fairness both of plumage and nobility of shape, 
and of all things that may be reckoned. A falcon peregrine 
she seemed, from a foreign land, and evermore again and again 
she swooneth for lack of blood, till she is well nigh fallen from 
the tree. 

This fair king's-daughter, that wore on her finger the won- 
drous ring, through which she understood fully all that any bird 
may say in his jargon, and could in his jargon answer him again, 
this Canacee hath understood what this falcon said and well nigh 
she died for ruth. And to the tree she goeth in haste and looketh 
pitifully on this falcon, and held wide her kirtle, for well she wist 
the falcon must fall from the bough, when next it swooned 
for lack of blood. A long time she stood to watch it, till at the 
last she spake in such fashion to the hawk as ye shall hear. 

"What is the cause, if it may be told, that ye be in this 



furious pain of hell? Is this for sorrow of some death or for 
loss of love? For as I ween these be two causes that bring woe 
to a gentle heart. It needeth not speak of other harm; for I 
see you tormenting yourself, which well proveth that either love 
or fear must occasion your cruel deed, sith I see not that ye 
are chased by any creature. For love of God, show yourself 
some mercy, or what may advantage you? for never ere now 
saw I in this world beast or bird that fared with himself so pite- 
ously. In sooth, ye slay me with your sorrow, I have such pity 
for you. For God's love, come down from the tree and, as I 
am a true king's-daughter, if I might know the cause verily of 
your grief, if it lay in my power, I would amend it before night, 
so help me the great God of nature! And I shall find herbs 
a-plenty wherewith quickly to heal your hurts." 

Then this falcon screamed more piteously than ever, and 
straightway fell to the ground and lay swooning as dead and 
like a stone, till Canacee hath taken her in her lap, to await 
such time as she should awake from her swoon. And after she 
gan start out of this swoon, she said thus in her hawk's language : 

"That pity runneth soon into a gentle heart, that feeleth his 
fellow-being in pain, is every day proved, as men may behold, 
both by acts and by book-authority; for gentle heart sheweth 
gentle deeds. I see well, my fair Canacee, that ye have com- 
passion of my distress, because of the true, womanly benignity 
that nature hath set in you. Yet not from the hope of faring 
the better, but to obey your noble heart, and to make others 
beware by me as the lion is affrighted by beating a dog, even 
for that cause while I have leisure and a space to do it will 
I confess my woe, ere I pass on." And ever while the one 
told her sorrow, the other wept as if she would turn to water, 



till the falcon bade her to be still, and with a sigh thus she said 
her say: 

"Where I was bred (alas! wretched time!) and fostered in 
a rock of grey marble so tenderly that nothing ailed me, I knew 
not what adversity was till I could soar far aloft under the 
sky. Then dwelt a tercelet hard by me that seemed the well 
of all gentleness. Although he was full of treason and falsehood, 
it was wrapped in such manner under humble looks, show of truth, 
courtesy and busy tokens of regard, that no wight would have 
weened that he could dissemble, so deep in grain he dyed his 
colours. Even as a serpent hideth him under blossoms till he 
may see his time to sting, even so doth this god of love, this 
hypocrite, perform his ceremonies and dutiful attentions and 
in semblance doth all the observances that accord unto love's 
gentleness. As in a tomb all the fairness is outward and under- 
neath is the corpse in such guise as ye know, even such was 
this hypocrite, both cold and hot, and in this wise he served 
his purpose, so that (save the fiend) none knew what was his 
mind; till he had wept and lamented so long, and so many a 
year feigned his service to me, that my heart too pitiful and 
too foolish all innocent of his sovereign malice, and fearful 
as methought of his death, upon his oath and pledge, granted 
him love upon this condition, that evermore mine honor and 
fame should be spared, both privily and openly; that is to say, 
I gave him, after his deserving, all my heart and all my thought- 
God knoweth, and he, that I would not on other terms and 
took his heart for aye in exchange for mine. But the sooth 
was said this many a day ago, 'A true wight and a thief think 
not alike.' And when he saw the thing gone so far that I had 
granted him my love fully in such wise as I have said, and given 



him my true heart, as utterly as he swore that he gave me his, 
straightway this tiger, full of doubleness, f ell on his knees, with 
humility so devout, with reverence so high and, in his look, so 
like in manner unto a gentle lover, so ravished as it seemed with 
bliss, that never Jason nor Paris of Troy Jason? nay certes, 
nor any other man since Lameth, that was the first of all to 
love two, as folk wrote of yore, nor ever since the first man was 
born, could anyone, by a twenty-thousandth part, imitate the 
sophisms of his cunning, nor be worthy to unbuckle his shoe where 
it concerneth feigning or doubleness, nor could so thank a person 
as he did me. It were an heaven to any woman be she never 
so knowing to behold his manner, he so painted and combed 
at point-device his words as well as his countenance. And I so 
loved him for his devotedness and for the truth I deemed in 
his heart, that if it chanced anything grieved him, were it never 
so little, an I knew of it, methought I felt death wring my heart. 
And in brief, so far is this thing gone, that my will was his 
will's instrument; that is to say, my will obeyed his in every- 
thing as far as was in reason, keeping the bounds ever of my 
worship, nor was ever thing so lief and dear to me as he, God 
wot! nor shall be evermore. 

"Longer than a year or two this lasteth that I supposed 
naught but good of him; but finally it befell that fortune would 
have him depart out of that place wherein I was. Whether I were 
woful there is no question; I can describe it not. But one thing 
I dare tell boldly : I know thereby what is the pain of death, such 
woe did I feel that he might not tarry. On a day he took his 
leave of me, so sorrowfully eke that I weened in truth he felt 
as much woe as I, when I heard him speak and saw his pallor. 
But I thought natheless he was true, and, to say sooth, that 



he would come again within a little while, and eke reason would 
that he must go for his honour, as oft it happeth, so that I 
made virtue of necessity, and took it well, sith it must be so. 
As I best might I hid my sorrow from him Saint John be my 
witness! and took him by the hand, and said to him thus: 'Lo! 
I am all yours; be such as I have been to you, and shall ever be.' 
It needeth not repeat what he answered. Who can say better 
than he? Who can do worse? When he hath said all things 
well, then he hath done. I have heard it said: 'He that shall 
eat with a fiend needeth a full long spoon therefor.' So at last 
he must fare on his way, and forth he flyeth till he came where 
he list. When he thought best to abide, I trow he had in remem- 
brance the text that 'all things, repairing to their kind, rejoice.' 
Thus men say, methinketh. Men of their own proper nature 
love newfangledness, as do birds that men feed in cages. For 
though thou care for them night and day, and strew their cage 
fair and soft as down, and give them sugar and milk, bread 
and honey, yet right so soon as the door is raised, they will spurn 
down their cup with their feet and away to the wood and eat 
worms. So newfangled be they of diet, and of very nature 
love novelties, that no gentleness of blood may bind them. So 
alas the day! fared this tercelet. Though he was gentle-born, 
fresh and blithe, and goodly for to see, and humble and generous, 
yet on a time he saw a kite flying, and suddenly he so loved this 
kite that all his love is clean gone from me, and in this manner 
he hath broken his troth. Thus the kite hath my love in her 
service, and I am lorn without remedy." 

With that word this falcon gan wail and swooned again 
in Canacee's bosom. 

Great was the lament for the falcon's harm that Canacee made 



and all her women. They wist not how they might gladden 
her. But Canacee beareth her home in her kirtle and softly gan 
wrap her in plasters where with her beak she had hurt herself. 
Now Canacee can do naught but dig roots out of the ground, 
to heal this hawk, and make new salves of herbs, precious and fine 
of hue ; from dawn till dark she busieth herself with all her might. 
And by her bed's head she made a mew and covered it with blue 
velvets, in sign of the truth that is in women. And without, 
all the mew is painted green, and there were painted these false 
fowls such as be all these titlarks, tercelets and owls; and pies, 
to scream and chide them, were painted eke there for despite. 

Thus leave I Canacee with her hawk; no more now will I 
speak of her ring till the time come again to say how this falcon 
got her love once more repentant, as the story telleth, by medi- 
ation of Cambalus, the king's son of whom I told you. But 
henceforth I will guide my tale to speak of such battles and 
adventures that never yet were heard so great wonders. 

First I will tell you of Cambinskan, that in his time won 
many a city; and afterward I will speak of Algarsyf, how he 
won Theodora for his bride, for whom he was in great peril full 
oft, had he not been helped by the steed of brass ; and afterward 
I will speak of Cambalo, that fought with the two brethren in 
the lists for Canacee, ere he might win her. And where I left I 
will return again. 

Explicit secunda pars. 
Incipit pars tercia. 

Apollo whirleth up his chariot so far aloft that the house of 
the sly god Mercurius 


The Words of the Franklin 

Here follow the words of the Franklin to the Squire, and the 
words of the Host to the Franklin. 

" "1* N faith, Squire, thou hast quit thee well and frankly I 
praise full high thy discretion," quoth the Franklin. 
"Considering thy youth, sir, I applaud thee. Thou speak- 
est so feelingly that, to my thinking, there is none of us that shall 
be thy peer in eloquence, if thou live ; God give thee good fortune 
and send thee continuance in virtue, for I have great delight of 
thy speech. I have a son and, by the Trinity, I had liefer than 
twenty pound worth of land, though right now it were fallen 
to my lot, that he were a man of such understanding as ye. Fie 
on possession, unless withal a man be virtuous. I have chid my 
son, and yet shall, for he list not hearken to virtue; but to play 
at dice is his wont and to spend and lose all that he hath, and 
he had liefer talk with a page than commune with any gentle 
wight where he might have true gentle breeding." 

"Straw for your gentle breeding!" quoth our host. "What, 
Franklin? pardee, sir, well thou wottest that each of you must 
tell at least a tale or two, or else break his word." 

"Sir," quoth the Franklin, "that know I well. I pray you 
have me not in disdain though I speak to this man a word or 

"Tell on thy tale without more words." 

"Gladly," quoth he, "sir host, I submit unto your will; now 
hark what I say. I will not withstand you in any way as far as 
my wits will suffice me. I pray God it may please you, then 
wot I well it is good enough." 


The Franklin's Prologue 

The Prologue of the Franklin 3 s Tale. 

THESE gentle Bretons in the old time made lays of 
diverse adventures, rhymed in their early Breton tongue ; 
which lays they sang to their instruments, or else read 
them for their delight; and one of them I have in remembrance 
which I shall relate with good-will as best I am able. But, sirs, 
sith I am a homespun man, I pray you at my beginning to excuse 
me for my rude speech. Sure I learned never rhetoric; what I 
speak must be bare and plain; I slept never on the mount of 
Parnassus, nor learned Marcus Tullius Cicero. Colours I know 
none, in sooth, but such colours as grow in the mead, or else such 
as men dye or paint. Colours of rhetoric be too dainty for me ; 
my spirit discerneth naught of such matter. But if ye list 
ye shall hear my tale. 

The Franklin's Tale 

Here beginneth the Franklins Tale. 

IN Armorik, that is called Brittany, there was a knight that 
loved a lady, and did his best diligence to serve her; and 
many a labour and great emprise he wrought for her, ere 
she was won. For she was one of the fairest under the heaven, 
and thereto come of such high kin, that scarce durst this knight, 



for dread, tell her his woe, his pain and his dolor. But at last, 
for his worthiness, and especially for his meek obedience, she 
hath caught such a pity of his suffering, that privily she agreed 
to take him for her husband and lord, of such lordship, that 
is, as men have over their wives; and the better to pass their 
days in bliss, he swore unto her of his free will, as a knight, that 
never in all his life would he take upon him the mastership against 
her will, nor cause her jealousy, but obey her, and follow her 
will in all things, as every lover should do unto his lady; save 
that he would keep the name of sovereignty, for the sake of 
his title of husband and knight. 

She thanked him and full humbly she said, "Sir, sith of 
your gentleness ye proffer me so free a rein, I pray to God that 
there be never, by fault of mine, either war or dissension betwixt 
us. Sir, I will be your humble, true wife, have here my troth, 
till my heart cease to beat." Thus be they both in quiet and 

For one thing, sirs, I dare safely aver, that friends must 
obey each other if they will hold company long. Love will not 
be constrained by mastery. When mastery cometh, the god of 
love beateth straightway his wings, and farewell! he is gone. 
Love is a thing free as any spirit. Women by nature desire 
freedom, and not to be constrained as thralls ; and so do men, if 
I shall say sooth. Lo! he that is most patient in love hath 
advantage over all. Certainly patience is a high virtue, for, as 
these clerks say, it compasseth things that rigour shall never com- 
pass. Folk should not chide or complain at every mere word. 
Learn to suffer or else, by my faith, ye shall learn it whether 
ye will or no. For in this world, sooth, there is no wight that 
doth not or saith not sometime amiss. A man's ire, sickness, 



constellation, wine, woe, or changing of humours, causeth him 
full oft to do, or speak, amiss. A man may not avenge every 
wrong. According to the occasion, temperance must be shown by 
every wight, that knoweth to govern himself. And therefore 
hath this wise worthy knight, in order to live in ease, promised 
forbearance unto his wife, and full wisely she swore to him that 
never should there be blame in her. 

Here may men witness an humble, wise harmony; thus hath 
she taken at once her servant and her lord: servant in love, and 
lord in marriage; therefore he was both in lordship and service. 
Service? nay, but such service as is higher than lordship, sith he 
hath both his lady and his love ; his lady, certes, and eke his wife, 
with whom the law of love accordeth. And when he was thus 
prosperous, he goeth home with his wife to his own country, 
not far from Penmarch, where was his dwelling, and there he 
liveth in bliss and in joy. 

Who can tell, save him that hath been wedded, the joy, ease 
and prosperity that is betwixt husband and wife? A year and 
more this blissful time lasted till the knight, of whom I speak, 
who was called Arveragus of Kayrrud, made him ready to go 
and dwell a year or two in England, that was called eke Britain, 
to seek glory and honour in arms; for he set all his joy in 
such achievements; and there, the book saith, he dwelled two 

Now I will stint of this Arveragus and speak of his wife 
Dorigen, that loveth her husband as her soul. For his absence 
she sigheth and weepeth, as these noble wives do, when it liketh 
them. She mourneth, complaineth, waketh, waileth, fasteth; 
desire for his presence so distresseth her, that all this wide world 
she setteth at naught. Her friends, that knew her heavy heart, 



comfort her in all that they can ; they preach unto her, night and 
day they tell her that without cause, alas! she slayeth herself, 
and with all their diligence they show unto her every kind 
attention possible in such a case, to make her leave her heaviness. 

By degrees, as ye all know, men may engrave in a stone so 
long that some figure will be imprinted therein. So long have 
they comforted her that, by hope and argument, she hath received 
the imprint of her consolation, through which her great sorrow 
gan assuage; she could not alway endure in such frenzy. And 
eke, in all this grief, Arveragus hath sent letters home unto her 
of his welfare, and that he would return hastily; else had this 
sorrow slain her heart. Her friends saw that her sorrow gan 
lessen, and prayed her, upon their knees, for God's sake to come 
and roam in company, to drive her dark fantasy away ; and finally 
she consented, for she saw well that it was for the best. 

Now her castle stood fast by the sea, and often she walked 
with her friends to disport her upon the lofty bank, whence 
she saw many a ship and barge sailing their course whither they 
list to sail; but then was that parcel of her woe. For full oft 
to herself she saith, "Alas! is there no ship, of so many as I see, 
will bring home my lord? Then were my heart all cured of its 
bitter stinging pain." 

At another time she would sit there pensive, and cast her 
eyes downward from the brink. But when she saw the grisly, 
dark rocks, her heart would so quake for very fear, that she 
might not support herself upon her feet. Then would she sit 
down upon the green, and piteously gaze out on the sea, and with 
forlorn and sorrowful sighs, say thus: "Eternal God, that leadest 
the world through thy providence by a sure control, nothing dost 
thou perform, as men say, in vain ; but, Lord, these grisly, fiendly, 



black rocks, that seem rather a foul confusion of work than 
the fair creation of such a perfectly wise and steadfast God, why 
have ye wrought this unreasonable work? For to my wit, neither 
east, west, north, nor south, is there man, beast or bird to whom 
it doth good, but rather harm. See ye not, Lord, how it destroyeth 
mankind? Although they be not in remembrance, rocks have 
slain an hundred thousand of mankind, which is so fair a part of 
thy work, that thou madest it like to thine own image. Then 
seemed it ye had a great fondness for mankind ; but how then may 
it be that to destroy it ye make such means as do no good, but ever 
harm? I wot well that by arguments, as it pleaseth them, clerks 
will say all is for the best, though I cannot discern the causes. 
But may that God which made the wind to blow preserve my 
lord! this is mine only prayer. I leave to clerks all disputation; 
but would to God that all these dark rocks were sunk into hell 
for his sake! These rocks slay mine heart for fear." This would 
she say, full piteously weeping. 

Her friends saw that it was no alleviation, but grief for her, 
to roam by the sea, and planned to disport themselves somewhere 
else. They led her by rivers and springs and eke in other 
delectable places; they danced and they played at tables and 

So on a day, in the morning, they go unto a garden nearby 
in which they had made their preparation of victuals and of 
other diversions, and took their pleasure all day long. And this 
was on the sixth morn of May, that, with his soft showers, had 
painted this garden full of blossoms and of leaves ; and the craft 
of man's hand had arrayed it so curiously that never, in sooth, 
was there garden of such glory, unless it were paradise itself. 
The odour and the fresh sight of flowers would have made any 



heart for to leap that ever was born, unless too great sickness, 
or sorrow, held it in pain; so full of beauty and delight was 
the place. And after dinner, they gan to dance, and eke sing, 
save only Dorigen, who made alway her complaint and her moan ; 
for she saw not going on the dance him that was her -husband 
and eke her love. But natheless she must tarry yet a time, and 
with good hope she let slide her sorrow. 

Upon this dance amongst others, there danced before Dorigen 
a squire, that was fresher, I deem, and gaylier clad than the 
month of May. He singeth and danceth, surpassing any man 
that is, or was sith the beginning of the world. Therewith, if 
one should describe him, he was one of the best-looking men 
alive; young, strong, virtuous, rich, and wise, well-beloved, and 
held in great esteem. And briefly, to tell the truth, this lusty 
squire, Venus' servant, who was called Aurelius, unbeknown at 
all to this Dorigen, had loved her best of any creature, two years 
and more, as was his fate, and never durst he tell her his grief; 
but drank in full measure all his pain. He was in despair; 
nothing durst he say, save that in his songs he would reveal 
somewhat his woe, in a general complaining ; he said he loved but 
was beloved not. Of such matter he made many lays, songs, 
complaints, rondeaux and ballads, of how he durst not speak 
his sorrow but must needs suffer torments, as doth a fury in hell ; 
and he said he must die, as for Narcissus did Echo, that durst 
not tell her pain. In no other manner than ye hear me describe 
durst he betray his woe to her ; save that, peradventure, at dances, 
where young folk observe their ceremonies, it may well be that 
he looked on her countenance, in such wise as a man that asketh 
grace; but nothing she wist of his thoughts. Natheless, ere they 
went thence, because he was her neighbour, and a man of rank 



and esteem, and she had known him for a long time, it happed 
that they fell in speech; and more and more Aurelius drew 
forth unto his purpose, and when he saw his time, he spake. 

"Madame," quoth he, "by God that created this world, I 
would, the day that your Arveragus went over the sea, that I 
had gone whence never I should have come back; for I wot well 
my service is in vain. My only guerdon is the breaking of my 
heart. Madame, take pity upon my woe; for with a word ye 
may slay or save me. Would to God that I were buried here 
at your feet. I have no opportunity now to speak more; have 
mercy, sweet, or ye will slay me!" 

She gan look upon Aurelius: "Is this your desire," quoth 
she, "and say ye so? Never before I wist what ye meant. But 
now that I know your purpose, Aurelie, never by that God 
that gave me soul and breath shall I be untrue wife, in word 
or work, so far as I know thereof; I will be his, to whom I am 
knit; take this of me as final answer." But after that she said 
thus in play: "Aurelie," quoth she, "by heaven's king, I would 
yet grant you to be your love, sith I see you lament so piteously. 
Lo! on that day that, from end to end of Brittany, ye remove 
all the ropks, stone by stone, so that they hinder no ship nor boat 
from passing I say, when ye have made the coast so clean of 
rocks that there is not a stone visible, then will I love you best 
of all men; have here my utmost pledge." 

"Is there no other grace in you," quoth Aurelius. "No, by 
that Lord that made me!" quoth she, "for I wot well it shall 
never betide. Let such follies pass out of your heart. What 
delight in living should a man have to go love the wife of another 
man that hath control over her body?" 

Sore sigheth Aurelius full oft. Woe was him, when he heard 



this, and with a sorrowful heart he replied thus: "Madame,'* 
quoth he, "this were an impossible thing! Then must I die of 
horrid, sudden death." And with that word straightway he turned 
him away. Then came many of her other friends, and roamed 
up and down in the garden-walks, and wist nothing of this event, 
but began on a sudden new revelry till the bright sun lost his 
colour, for the horizon had bereft the sun of his beams; this 
is as much as to say it was night. And home they go in joy and in 
gladness, save only alas! wretched Aurelius. He is gone to 
his house with sorrowful heart; he seeth he may not escape his 
death. He seemed to feel his heart grow cold; up to the heaven 
he gan raise his hands, and down he set him on his bare knees, 
and said his orison in his raving. For very woe he went out of 
his wits. He wist not what he spake, but with piteous heart 
thus maketh he his plaint to the gods, and first unto the sun: 
"Apollo," he said, "god and governor of every plant, herb, 
blossom, tree, that givest, according to thy declination, to each 
of them its time and season, even as thy dwelling changeth low 
or high, lord Phoebus, cast thy merciful gaze on me, wretched 
Aurelie, that am quite forsaken. Lo, lord! my lady hath sworn 
my death without guilt, but let thy goodness have some pity 
upon my dying heart. For I wot well, if it liketh you, lord 
Phoebus, that, save my lady, ye may help me the best. Now 
vouchsafe that I may describe unto you in what I may be helped 
and in what manner. 

"Your blissful sister, Lucina the bright, that is chief goddess 
and queen of the sea, although Neptunus be king in that realm, 
yet she is empress above him. Lord, ye know well that as her 
desire is to be quickened and illumined by your flame, for which 
she followeth you diligently, even so the sea by nature desireth 



to follow her, that is goddess in the sea and in rivers great 
and small. Wherefore, lord Phoebus, perform this miracle, or 
let mine heart burst; this is my petition: Pray her now, at the 
next opposition that shall take place when thou art in the sign 
of the Lion, pray her to bring so great a flood that it shall overtop 
by five fathoms at the least the highest rock in Armorik Brittany ; 
and let this flood endure two years. Then certes I may cry unto 
my lady: 'Keep your troth, the rocks be away!' Lord Phoebus, 
perform for me this miracle; pray her that she go no faster 
course than ye; I say, pray your sister that she go no faster 
course than ye during these two years. Then shall she ever be 
just at full, and spring-flood last both night and day. And 
unless she vouchsafe in such wise to grant me my sovereign lady 
dear, pray her to sink every rock into her own dark region under 
ground, wherein Pluto dwelleth; else nevermore shall I win my 
lady. Unto thy temple in Delphos will I go barefoot; lord 
Phosbus, see the tears on my cheek, and have some compassion 
of my pain." And with that word he fell down swooning, and 
long time he lay in a trance. His brother, that knew of his suffer- 
ing, caught him up and brought him to bed. Thus desperate 
in grief and torment, I leave this woful creature lying. Let 
him choose, for all I reck, whether he will live or perish. 

Arveragus, with prosperity and great glory, as he that is 
the flower of chivalry, is come home with other worthy folk. 
Blissful art thou now, O thou Dorigen! that hast in thine 
arms thy lusty husband, the fresh knight, the worthy man of 
battle, that loveth thee as his own heart's life. He list not to 
fancy whether any wight, while he was away, had spoken to 
her of love; he had no suspicion of it. He thinketh naught 
of such a thing, but danceth, jousteth and maketh her good 



cheer; and thus I leave them living in joy and bliss, and of sick 
Aurelius will I tell. 

In languor and frenzied torment lay wretched Aurelius two 
years and more, ere he might set foot on the earth. Comfort 
in this time had he none, save of his brother, that was a clerk; 
he knew of all this woe and trouble; for in sooth to none other 
creature durst he say a word of this matter. Under his breast 
he bare it more secret than ever did Pamphilus for Galatea. His 
breast was whole, to look on without, but aye in his heart was 
the keen arrow; and well ye know that in surgery the cure of a 
wound healed only on the surface is perilous, unless men may 
touch the arrow, or come thereat. His brother wept and wailed 
privily, till at last he remembered him, that while he was at 
Orleans, in France as young clerks, that be eager to read 
curious arts, seek in every nook and corner to learn particular 
sciences he remembered him that on a day at Orleans, he saw 
a book of natural magic, which his fellow, who was at that time 
a candidate in law, although he was there to learn another art, 
had privily left upon his desk; which book spake much of 
operations, touching the eight and twenty houses that belong 
to the moon, and such foolishness, as is not worth a fly in our 
days; for the faith of the holy church, in our belief, suffereth 
no illusion to distress us. And when he remembered him of 
this book, his heart gan dance anon for joy, and he said privily 
to himself: "My brother shall be cured in haste; for I am sure 
that there be arts, by which men make such diverse appearances 
as these subtle jugglers contrive in play. For oft I have heard 
tell that jugglers at feasts have caused water to come into a 
great hall and a barge to row up and down therein. Some- 
times there hath seemed to come a grim lion, and sometimes 



flowers to spring as in a meadow; sometimes a vine, with red 
and white grapes; sometimes a castle, built all of stone and 
lime; and when it hath pleased them, straightway they voided 
it. Thus it seemed to the sight of every man. 

"Now then I conclude thus, that if I could find some old 
comrade at Orleans, that hath these mansions of the moon in 
remembrance, or other natural magic of the heavens, he should 
certainly cause my brother to have his love. For with an 
appearance a clerk may make it seem to a man's sight that the 
black rocks of Brittany be voided, each and all, and that ships 
come and go by the brink, and cause this to endure in such form 
a day or two; thus were my brother cured of his woe. Then 
Dorigen must needs keep her pledge, or at least he shall put 
her to shame." 

Why should I make longer tale of this? He came unto his 
brother's bed, and such comforting reasons he gave him for 
going to Orleans, that straightway up he started and forth then 
on his way he is gone, in hope to be relieved of his care. 

When they were come almost to that city, within two or 
three furlongs, they met a young clerk roaming by himself, 
who greeted them discreetly in Latin, and after that he spake 
what was wondrous. "I know," quoth he, "the cause of your 
coming;" and ere they went a foot further, he told them all 
that was in their thoughts. This clerk of Brittany asked him 
of the fellows whom he had known in the old days; and he 
answered him that they were dead, for which he wept full many 
a tear. Aurelius lighted down from his horse, and went home 
with this magician to his house, and made him full content. He 
lacked no meat or drink that might please him; so well equipped 
a house Aurelius saw never in his life before. Ere they went 



to supper he showed him forests and parks full of wild deer; 
there he saw harts with their high horns, the greatest that ever were 
seen. He saw an hundred of them slain with hounds, and some 
bleeding bitterly with arrows. When these wild deer were voided, 
upon a fair river he saw falconers that had killed a heron with 
their hawks. Then he saw knights jousting in a plain; and after 
this, he did him such pleasure as to show him his lady in a dance, 
on which, as it seemed, he himself danced. And when this 
master, that wrought this magic, saw it was time, he clapped his 
two hands, and farewell! our revelry was all gone. And yet 
they had never removed from the house while they saw all these 
wonderful sights, but they sat still all three in his study, where 
his books were, none other wight with them. This master called 
his squire to him and said thus : "Is our supper ready? It is almost 
an hour, I warrant, since I bade you to prepare it, and these 
worthy men went with me into my study, where my books be 

"Sir, when it liketh you," quoth this squire, "it is all ready, 
though ye wish it right now." 

"It is best, then, that we go sup," quoth he, "these amorous 
folk sometimes must have refreshment." After supper, they 
fell into discussion what should be this master's guerdon for 
removing all the rocks of Brittany from the Gironde to the 
mouth of the Seine. He drove a hard bargain and swore he would 
not so God save him! take less than a thousand pound, nor 
would he go gladly for that sum. 

With blissful heart, Aurelius answered anon thus: "Fie 
on a thousand pound! I would give this wide world if I were 
lord of it. This bargain is fully driven, for we be accorded. 
Ye shall be paid truly, by my faith! but look well now that, 



by no negligence or sloth, ye delay us here longer than to- 

"Nay, have here my faith as pledge," quoth this clerk. 

Aurelius, when he list, went to bed, and rested well nigh all 
that night. What with his labour and hope of bliss, his woful 
heart had a lull of its pain. Upon the morrow, when it was 
light, Aurelius and this magician took the straight way to Brit- 
tany, and went down where they would abide; and this, as the 
books put me in mind, was the cold, frosty season of December. 

Phoebus, that in his hot declination had shone as the burnished 
gold with glittering beams, waxed now old, of a hue like latten; 
for now he lighted adown in Capricorn, where, I must needs 
say, he shone full pale. The bitter frosts, with the sleet and rain, 
had destroyed the green in every close. Janus sitteth by the fire, 
with double beard, and drinketh the wine from his bugle-horn; 
before him standeth brawn of the tusked boar, and every lusty 
man "Nowel" crieth. 

Aurelius, in all that ever he is able, maketh cheer and rever- 
ence unto his master, and prayeth him either to do his best 
to bring him out of his wretched pain, or to pierce his heart 
with a sword. This subtle clerk hath such ruth of him, that 
night and day he speedeth him to watch for a time for his result ; 
that is to say, to make an illusion, by such an appearance or 
juggler's trick (I know not terms of astrology), that Dorigen 
and every wight should ween and confess that the rocks of 
Brittany were away, or else that they were sunk under ground. 
So at last he hath hit upon his time to make his wretched mum- 
mery of superstitious cursedness. He brought forth his Toletan 
tables, full well corrected, so that there lacked nothing, neither 
his round periods nor his separate years, nor his roots, nor his 



other data, such as be his centres and his arguments, and his 
fitting proportionals for his exact quantities in every thing; and 
by the working of his eighth sphere, he knew full well how far 
Alnath was removed from the head of that fixed Aries which 
is in the ninth sphere above it; full subtly he calculated all this. 
When he had found his first mansion, he knew the rest by pro- 
portion and knew well the arising of his moon, both in whose 
face, and in what term of the zodiac, and in every respect; and 
knew full well the moon's house according to its operation; 
and knew also his other observances for the causing of such illu- 
sions and misfortunes as heathen folk wont to deal with in 
those days. Wherefore he tarried no longer, but contrived by his 
magic that, for a week or two, it seemed that all the rocks were 

Aurelius, who is still despairing whether he shall have his 
love or fare amiss, awaiteth this miracle night and day, and 
when he knew that there was no hindrance, and that these rocks 
were all voided, down he fell anon at his master's feet, and said, 
"I, woful wretch, thank you, lord, and lady mine Venus, that 
have helped me out of my desolate cares." And forth he hath 
held his way to the temple, where he knew he should see his 
lady, and straightway, when he saw his time, with heart adread 
and full humble countenance, he hath saluted his dear, sovereign 
lady: "My true lady," quoth this woful man, "whom I love best 
and most fear, and whom of all this world I were most loath 
to displease, were it not that I have for you such a malady, that 
straightway I must die here at your feet, I would not tell how 
woe-begone I have been, save that certes I must eivher die or 
lament ; guiltless, with very pain, ye slay me. But though of my 
death ye have no pity, yet take counsel, ere ye break your troth. 



Repent, for high God's sake, ere ye slay me because I love you. 
For, madame, ye wot well what ye promised; not that I claim 
of you anything by right, my sovereign lady, but of your grace. 
At a certain spot in yonder garden, ye wot well what ye prom- 
ised me; and ye plighted me your troth in mine hand to love me 
best, God wot ye said so, although I be unworthy thereof. 
Madame, I speak it more for your honour than to save even now 
my heart's life; I have done as ye commanded me; and if ye 
vouchsafe, ye may go and behold. Do as ye list, have in 
remembrance your promise, for quick, or dead, right there ye 
shall find me. In you it lieth wholly to let me die or live; for 
well I wot the rocks be away!" 

He taketh his leave, and she standeth astounded; in all her 
face there was not a drop of blood. She weened never to have 
fallen into such a trap. "Alas," quoth she, "that this ever should 
betide! For I weened never, by any possibility, that such a 
prodigy or marvel might happen. It is against the process of 
nature." And home she goeth, a sorrowful wight. Scarce, for 
very fear, could she walk ; all of a day or two she weepeth, waileth 
and swooneth, that it was ruth to see; but to no wight told she 
why; for Arveragus was gone out of town. But with face 
pale and with full sorrowful cheer, she spake to herself, and in 
her complaint said as ye shall be told. 

"Alas!" quoth she, "I cry out against thee, Fortune, that 
hast bound me unaware in thy chain, to escape which I wot of 
no release save only death, or else dishonour; one of these two 
it behooveth me to choose. Natheless I had liefer die, than 
suffer a shame of my body, or know myself false, or lose my 
good repute; and in sooth I may be quit of these by my death. 
Hath there not ere this many a noble wife hath not many a 



maid slain herself, rather than do trespass with her body? Yea, 
certes ; lo ! these stories bear witness. 

"When thirty cursed tyrants had slain Phidon, at a feast 
in Athens, they commanded his daughters to be seized and 
brought before them in scorn, naked, to sate their foul desire; 
and they made them dance in their father's blood on the pave- 
ment may God punish them! For which these woful maidens, 
in fear, rather than lose their maidenhood, leapt privily into a 
well, and drowned themselves, as the books say. 

"They of Messena eke caused men to seek out fifty maidens 
of Lacedasmonia, whom they would dishonour; but there was 
none of that company that was not slain, and chose rather, with 
a glad will, to die, than consent to be robbed of her maidenhood. 
Why then should I be in fear to die? 

"Lo, eke, Aristoclides, the tyrant, loved a maid named Stym- 
phalides, that on a night, when her father was slain, went straight 
unto Dian's temple, and seized the image in her two hands, from 
which she would never depart. No wight could tear away her 
hands from it, till right in the self -same place she was slain. Now 
sith those maidens so scorned to be disgraced by man's desire, 
surely a wife methinketh ought rather to slay herself than be 

"What shall I say of Hasdrubal's wife, that slew herself 
at Carthage? For when she saw that the Romans had won the 
town, she took all her children and leapt into the fire, and chose 
rather to die than that any Roman should do her dishonour. 

"Hath not Lucrece, alas! slain herself at Rome, when she 
was oppressed of Tarquin, for it seemed to her a shame to live 
when she had lost her fair repute. 

"The seven maidens of Miletus eke have slain themselves, 



for mere dread and woe, rather than suffer the folk of Gaul 
to oppress them. More, I ween, than a thousand stories could I 
tell now touching this matter. When Abradates was slain, his 
fond wife slew herself, and let her blood flow into her husband's 
wounds, deep and wide, and said, 'At least there shall no wight 
disgrace my body, if I may prevent.' 

"Why should I tell more ensamples hereof, sith so many have 
slain themselves far rather than they would be disgraced? I 
will conclude that it is better for me to slay myself, than be 
disgraced so. I will be true unto Arveragus, or else slay myself 
in some way, as did Demotio's daughter dear, because she would 
not be disgraced. 

"O Scedasus! it is full great pity, alas! to read how thy 
daughters died, that slew themselves for the same reason. As 
great a pity, or greater, how the Theban maiden slew herself 
for Nicanor, even for the same woful cause. Another Theban 
maiden did even so, for one of Macedonia had oppressed her, 
and she atoned for her shame by her death. What shall I say 
of Niceratus' wife, that slew herself in such a case? How true, 
eke, to Alcibiades was his love, that chose rather to die than 
suffer his body to be unburied; lo, what a wife was Alcestis! 
What saith Homer of good Penelope? All Greece knoweth 
how she was chaste. Of Laodomia, pardee, it is written that 
when Protesilaus was slain at Troy, she would live no longer 
after his day. The same can I tell of noble Portia; without 
Brutus, to whom she had yielded her heart all whole, she could 
not live. The perfect wifehood of Artemisia is honoured 
throughout all heathendom. O Queen Teuta ! thy wifely chastity 
may be a mirror unto all wives. The same thing I say of Bilia, 
Valeria and Rhodogune." 



Thus lamented Dorigen for a day or two, purposing ever 
that she would die. Natheless, upon the third night, home came 
this worthy man Arveragus, and asked her why she so grievously 
wept. And she gan weep ever the more. "Alas!" quoth she, 
"that I was born! Thus have I said, thus have I promised 
and told him as ye have heard before; it needeth not rehearse 
it to you. 

This husband, in friendly wise, answered with glad cheer 
and said as I shall tell you: "Is there naught else but this, 
Dorigen?" "Nay, nay," quoth she, "may God help me, verily 
this is too much, and it were God's will." "Yea, wife," quoth 
he, "let sleeping dogs lie ; peradventure, all may be well yet to-day. 
Ye shall keep your troth, by my faith! For as God may have 
mercy on me, I had far liefer be slain, for the true love which 
I have for you, than ye should not keep and preserve your troth. 
A man's troth is the highest thing that he can preserve;" and 
anon with that word he burst out weeping and said, "I forbid 
you, on pain of death, while life lasteth to you, ever to tell of 
this mischance to any wight. As best I may, I will endure my 
woe, nor wear a heavy countenance, lest folk deem, or guess, 
evil of you." And he called forth a squire and a maid. "Go 
forth now with Dorigen," quoth he, "and bring her anon to 
such a place." They take their leave and go on their way; but 
they wist not why she went thither. He would not tell his 
purpose to any wight. 

Peradventure an heap of you will deem him an ignorant 
man in this, that he would put his wife in jeopardy; hearken the 
story ere ye lament for her. She may have better fortune than 
ye suppose; judge, when ye have heard the tale. 

This squire Aurelius, that was so enamoured of Dorigen, 



happed by chance to encounter her, amid the town, in the busiest 
street, as she was prepared to go the straight way toward the 
garden, where she had made her promise. And he also was going 
to the garden, for well he espied, when she would go out of her 
house to any place. Thus, by providence or chance, they met, 
and he saluted her with glad heart, and asked of her whither 
she went. And she answered half as she were mad, "Unto the 
garden as my husband hath bidden me, for to keep my troth, 
alas! alas!" 

Aurelius gan wonder at this, and had in his heart great com- 
passion of her, and of her lamentation, and of Arveragus, the 
worthy knight that bade her hold unto all she had promised, 
so loath was he that his wife should break her troth; and in 
his heart he was seized with great pity of this, so considering 
the best on every side, that liefer would he abstain from his 
desire than do so high-churlish and wretched a deed against 
nobility and all gentleness. Wherefore in few words he said: 

"Madame, say to your lord Arveragus that sith I see his 
great gentleness to you, and eke your grief, that he would liefer 
have shame (and that were pity), than that ye should break 
now your troth with me, I would far liefer suffer pain evermore 
than part the love betwixt you two. I release you, madame, 
here in your hand, of every bond and security that ye have made 
to me heretofore, sith the day ye were born. I pledge my troth 
I shall never reproach you of any promise, and here I take my 
leave of the truest and the best wife that ever I knew yet in all 
my days. But let every woman beware of her promise, and 
take remembrance at last on Dorigen. Thus, without doubt, 
can a squire do a gentle deed as well as a knight." 

She thanketh him, all on her bare knees, and home she is gone 



unto her husband, and telleth him all, even as ye have heard 
me say ; and be sure, he was so well pleased that it were impossible 
for me to tell thereof; why should I endite longer of this matter? 

Arveragus and Dorigen led forth their life in sovereign bliss. 
Nevermore was there anger betwixt them; he cherisheth her 
like a queen; and she was ever true to him. Of these two ye 
get no more of me. 

Aurelius, that hath lost all his pains, curseth the time that 
he was born. "Alas," quoth he, "alas ! that I promised a thousand 
pound in weight of pure gold unto this philosopher ! What shall 
I do? I see naught but that I am undone. Mine heritage I 
must needs sell and be a beggar; I may not live here; I should 
shame all my kindred in this town, unless I might get better 
grace of this magician. But natheless I will endeavour year by 
year at certain days to pay him, and thank him for his great 
courtesy; I will keep my troth; I will not deceive him." 

With sad heart he goeth unto his chest and bringeth gold 
unto this philosopher, to the value, I ween, of five hundred pound, 
and beseecheth him, of his gentleness, to grant him time to pay 
the remnant, and said, "Master, I dare make boast that I never 
failed yet of my troth; for my debt to you shall surely be paid, 
though it be my lot to go abegging in my bare kirtle. But 
would ye vouchsafe, upon security, to give me respite of two or 
three years, then were I fortunate, for else I must sell mine 
heritage ; there is no more to say." 

When he had heard these words, this philosopher soberly 
answered and said, "Have I not kept covenant with thee?" "Yea, 
certes," quoth he, "well and truly." "Hast thou not had thy 
lady as pleaseth thee?" "No, no," quoth he, and sorrowfully 
sigheth. "What was the cause? tell me, if thou canst." Aurelius 



began anon his tale, and told him as ye have heard before; it 
needeth not rehearse it unto you. 

He said, "Arveragus, of his gentleness, had liefer die in 
sorrow and woe, than that his wife were false of her troth." 
He told him also of Dorigen's sorrow, how loath she was 
to be a wicked wife, and that she had liefer die that day, 
and that she had sworn her troth, through innocence: "She 
never before heard tell of illusions; that made me have 
so great pity of her; and even as freely as he sent her 
to me, as freely I sent her to him again. This is the sum and 
substance ; there is no more to say." 

This philosopher answered, "Dear brother, each of you acted 
gently. Thou art a squire and he is a knight, but God, in his 
blessed power, forbid that a clerk may not do a gentle deed 
as well, surely, as any of you. Sir, I release thee of thy thousand 
pound as if right now thou hadst crept out of the earth, and 
never ere now hadst known me. For, sir, I will not take a penny 
of thee for all my craft, nor aught for my labour; thou hast 
paid well for my victualing; it is enough, have good day, and 
farewell!" And he took his horse and went forth. 

Lordings, this question now would I ask: Which, as seemeth 
to you, was the most liberal? Now tell me, ere ye go farther. 
I can say no more; my tale is at an end. 

Here is ended the Franklins Tale. 


The Canon's Yeoman's Prologue 

The Prologue of the Canon's Yeoman's Tale. 

WHEN the life of Saint Cecilia was ended, ere we had 
ridden fully five miles, at Boghton-under-Blee a man 
gan overtake us that was clad in black clothes, and 
underneath he had a white surplice. His hackney, that was all 
dappled gray, sweat so that it was wonderful to behold ; it seemed 
as he had spurred three miles. The horse that his yeoman rode 
upon eke so sweat that it scarce might go. He was all flecked 
as a magpie with foam, that stood full thick about the poitrel. 
A doubled wallet lay on his crupper; it seemed that he carried 
little raiment. This worthy man rode all light-clad for summer, 
and I gan wonder in my heart what he was, till I espied how 
his cloak was sewed to his hood ; for which, when I had considered 
long, I deemed him to be some canon. His hat hung down at his 
back by a string, for he had ridden more than a walk or trot; he 
had spurred aye as he were mad. Under his hood he had a bur- 
dock leaf against the sweat and to keep his head from the sun. Eh, 
but it was joy to see him sweat! His forehead dripped as a still, 
full of plantain and of pellitory. And when he was come, he gan 
call out, "God save this jolly company! I have pricked fast 
on your account, because I would overtake you and ride in this 
merry company." His yeoman eke was full courteous and said, 
"Sirs, this morn I saw you ride out of your hostelry, and warned 
my lord and master here, that is full fain to ride with you for 
his diversion; he loveth dalliance." 



"Friend," then said our host, "God give thee good luck for 
thy warning, for it would seem, certes, thy lord is wise, and I 
may well think so. I dare lay my money also he is full jocund. 
Can he tell us ever a merry tale or two, with which he may gladden 
this company?" 

"Who, sir? My lord? Yea, yea, without doubt; he knoweth 
enough and to spare of mirth and jollity; trust me, sir, also 
an ye knew him as well as I do, ye would marvel how craftily 
and well, he can work, and that eke in sundry ways. He hath 
taken many a great emprise upon him, which would be full 
hard for any that is here to carry out, unless they learn it of 
him. As homely as he rideth amongst you, yet if ye knew him, 
it would be for your advantage; ye would not forego his 
acquaintance for much wealth, I dare stake all that I possess. 
He is a man of high discretion ; I warn you, he is a passing man." 

"Well," quoth our host, "I pray thee then tell me, is he a 
clerk, or no? Tell what he is." 

"Nay, faith, he is greater than a clerk," said this yeoman, 
"and in few words, host, I will tell you somewhat of his craft. 
I say, my lord knoweth such subtlety (but ye may not learn 
from me all his craft and yet I help somewhat in his working) 
that all this ground on which we be riding till we come to Canter- 
bury-town he could turn clean inside-out and pave it all of silver 
and gold." 

And when this yeoman had thus spoken unto our host, he 
said, "Ben cite! this thing to me is a wondrous marvel, sith thy 
lord is of so high discretion because of which men should rever- 
ence him, that he recketh so little of his worship. In truth I 
vow his cloak is not worth a mite; it is all dirty and torn also. 
Why is thy lord so sluttish, I pray thee, and yet hath power to 



buy better clothes, if his deed accord with thy tale of him? Tell 
me that ; and that I beseech thee." 

"Why?" quoth this yeoman, "wherefore ask me? So help me 
God, he shall never prosper. (But I will not avow what 
I say and therefore, I beseech you, keep it secret.) I believe 
in faith, he is too wise. That which is overdone will not come 
out aright; as clerks say, it is a vice. Wherefore in that I hold 
him blind and foolish. For when a man hath a wit over-great, 
full oft it happeth him to misuse it. So doth my lord, and that 
grieveth me much. God amend it; I can say no more to you." 

"No matter of that, good yeoman," our host said, "sith thou 
wotst of the cunning of thy lord, I pray thee heartily tell what 
he doth, sith he is so sly and crafty. Where dwell ye, if it may 
be told?" 

"In the suburbs of a town," quoth he, "lurking in corners 
and blind lanes, where robbers and thieves hold by nature their 
secret fearful dwelling, as they that dare not show their presence ; 
even so we fare, if I shall say sooth to thee." 

"Now let me talk to thee yet," quoth our host; "wherefore 
art thou so discoloured of thy face?" 

"Peter!" quoth he, "God give it sorrow, I am so used to 
blow in the fire, that I ween it hath changed my colour. I am 
not wont to peer into any mirror, but to toil sore and learn to 
multiply. We become mazed and pore ever into the fire, yet 
for all that we fail of our hopes for we lack ever our result. 
We delude many folk and borrow gold, be it a pound, or two, or 
ten, or twelve, or many sums larger, and make them ween at 
the least that of one pound we can make two. Yet it is false, but 
we have aye faith that we may do it, and we grope after it. But 
that knowledge is so far beyond us, we may not overtake it, though 



we had sworn to, it glideth away so quickly; it will make us 
beggars at last." 

While this yeoman was talking thus, this canon drew near 
and heard all which this yeoman spake, for he had ever suspicion 
of men's speech. For Cato saith that he that is guilty deemeth 
verily that all things be spoken of him. That was the cause why 
he drew him so near to his yeoman, to hearken all his speech ; and 
thus he said then unto his yeoman, "Hold thy peace and speak 
no more words, for if thou do, thou shalt pay for it dear; thou 
slanderest me in this company, and makest known eke what thou 
shouldst hide." 

"Yea," quoth our host, "tell on, whatsoever befall; reck not 
a mite for all his threatening." 

"In faith, no more I do but little," quoth he. 

And when this canon saw that it would be no else than this 
yeoman would tell his privacy, he fled away, for very shame 
and sorrow. 

"Aye," quoth the yeoman, "here shall be sport; all now that 
I know will I tell anon. Sith he is gone, the foul fiend kill him ! 
For never hereafter, I promise you, will I meet with him, for 
penny nor for pound. He that first brought me into that sport, 
may he have sorrow and shame ere he die! For, by my fay, 
it hath been bitter earnest to me; I feel that well, whatsoever 
any man saith. And yet for all my pain and grief, for all 
my sorrow and labour and misfortune, I could in no wise ever 
leave it. Now would to God my wit might be sufficient to tell 
all that pertaineth to that craft! Natheless I will tell you part; 
sith my lord is gone, I will not spare him; such things as I 
know I will speak." 

Here endetli the Prologue of the Canon's Yeoman's Tale. 


The Canon's Yeoman's Tale 

Here beginneth the Canon's Yeoman his Tale. 

SEVEN years have I dwelt with this canon and never the 
better am I for his science. Thereby have I lost all that 
I had and, God wot, so have many more than I. Where 
I was wont to be right gay of clothing and of other fine gear, now 
I may wear a stocking on mine head; and where my colour was 
both fresh and ruddy, now is it wan and leaden of hue. Who- 
soever practiseth this art shall have sorrow therefor. Mine eyes 
are still bleared of my toil. Lo, what advantage it is to multiply ! 
That slippery science hath made me so bare that I have naught 
left wheresoever I go. And thereby am I so deep in debt for 
gold that I have borrowed, that truly while I live I shall never 
repay it. Let every man forevermore beware by me! Whatso- 
ever man turneth him thereto, I hold his thrift shall be at an end 
if he continue. So help me God, he shall gain naught thereby, 
but empty his purse and make thin his wits; and when, by his 
madness and folly, he hath staked and lost his own goods, then 
thereto he exciteth other folk to lose their goods even as he 
himself hath done. For it is joy and content unto rogues to 
have their fellows in pain and distress. Thus once was I taught 
of a clerk; but of that no matter; I will speak of our labours. 
When we be where we shall practise our elvish craft, we seem 
wondrous wise, our terms be so clerkly and strange. I blow 
the fire till mine heart fainteth. Why should I tell all the 
proportions of the things which we work upon, as on five or six 
ounces of silver, or perchance some other quantity, and busy me 



to tell you the names of iron scales, of orpiments and burnt bones, 
that be ground full fine into powder? And how all is placed in 
an earthen pot, and salt put in, and also, before these powders 
that I speak of, paper and many other things, and well covered 
with a plate of glass? And how the pot and glasses are sealed 
with clay, that naught of the air may pass out? And of the 
easy and eke the brisk fire which was made, and of the trouble 
and the woe that we had in sublimating our substances, and in the' 
amalgaming and the calcining of quicksilver, called crude mer- 
cury. For all our sleights, we cannot attain unto our end. Our 
orpiment and our sublimed mercury, our litharge eke ground on 
a porphyry slab to use of these a certain number of ounces of 
each helpeth us naught; our labour is in vain. Nor may the 
vapourizing of our spirits, nor eke the substances that remain 
thereafter, avail us aught in our working; for lost is all our 
labour and toil, and lost also, in twenty devil ways, is all the 
money which we stake upon it. 

There be eke full many other things that pertain unto our 
craft ; though I cannot rehearse them in their order, because I am 
a skilless wight, yet will I tell them as I call them to mind, though 
I cannot set each in its class : as Armenian clay, borax, verdigris, 
sundry vessels made of glass and earth, our pots, our descen- 
sories, vials, sublimating vessels, crucibles, gourds, alembics and 
other such vessels, dear enough at a leek's worth. It needeth not 
to rehearse every one: reddening waters, bull's gall, arsenic, 
sal ammoniac, and brimstone; and eke many an herb could I 
tell, as agrimony, valerian, lunary, and other such if I list to 
take the time. Our lamps are burning both day and night to 
bring about our end, if may be. 

We have eke our furnaces for calcination and for the albifi- 


cation of water, our unslaked lime, chalk, white of egg, diverse 
powders, dung, ashes, clay, waxed bags, vitriol, saltpeter, and 
divers sorts of fire made of wood and charcoal, salt of tartar, 
alkali, prepared salt, calcined and coagulated substances, clay 
made with horse-hair or man's-hair, oil of tartar, alum, glass, 
yeast, herbs, crude tartar, red orpiment, our substances for 
absorbing and drinking-in others; our citronizing of silver; our 
cementing and fermentation; our moulds, assaying-vessels and 
many things more. 

I will tell you, as was also taught me, the four spirits and the 
seven bodies in their order, as oft I have heard my lord name 
them. The first spirit is called quicksilver, the second orpiment, 
the third sal ammoniac and the fourth brimstone. The seven 
bodies, lo! here are they eke: Sol is gold, Luna we call silver, 
Mars iron, Mercury we name quicksilver, Saturn lead, Jupiter 
tin and Venus copper, by the souls of my forefathers! 

Whosoever will practise this cursed craft shall alway be 
poor; for all the goods he spendeth thereon he shall lose, I have 
no doubt. Whoso that list to display his folly, let him come 
forth and learn multiplying. And every man that hath aught 
in his purse, let him appear and wax a philosopher. Perchance 
because that craft is so light to learn? Nay, nay, God wot, be 
he friar or monk, priest or canon, or any other man, though 
he sit at his book day and night learning this foolish elvish lore, 
all is in vain and, pardee, much worse! To teach this subtlety 
to an ignorant man, fy! speak not thereof; it may not be. 
Knoweth he book-lore, or knoweth he none, in the end he shall 
find it all the same. For, by my salvation, both the two end 
alike well in multiplying, when they have done all they may; 
that is to say, they fail both the two. 



Yet I forgot to make rehearsal of corrosive waters, of metal 
filings, of mollification of bodies, and eke of their induration; 
oils, ablutions and fusible metal; to tell all would outdo any 
great volume in the world; wherefore, as seemeth best, I will 
stint now of all these names ; for I trow I have told you enough 
to raise a fiend, look he never so fierce. 

Ah, nay ! let be ! we seek eagerly each and all for the philoso- 
pher's stone, called Elixir; for if we had him then were we 
secure enough; but I make mine avow unto God in heaven, for 
all our craft and sleight, when we have done our all, he will 
not come to us. He hath made us spend mickle goods, for 
sorrow of which we wax almost mad, but that hope creepeth into 
our hearts, making us suppose ever, though we be in sore trouble, 
that we shall be relieved by him afterward. Such supposing 
and hope are sharp and cruel; I warn you well, it is ever to seek, 
and that future tense hath made men, by trusting thereto, part 
from all that ever they had; yet of that craft they cannot wax 
weary, for it is a bitter sweetness unto them, so it seemeth; for 
had they naught but a sheet to wrap them in at night and a clout 
to walk in by day, yet would they sell them and spend all on 
this art; they cannot stint till nothing be left. And evermore, 
wheresoever they go, men may know them by the smell of brim- 
stone. They stink for all the world like a goat. Their savour 
is so hot and rammish that, though a man be a mile from them, 
the savour shall infect him, trust me. Lo! thus, by smell and 
threadbare garb, men may know these folk, if they list. And 
if a man will privily ask them why they be clothed so unthrif tily, 
right anon they will whisper in his ear and say, that if they were 
espied, men would slay them because of their science. Lo! thus 
doth this folk betray the innocent! 



Pass over this; I turn to my tale. Ere the pot be set on 
the fire with a certain quantity of metals, my lord, and no man 
save him, tempereth them now he is gone, I dare speak boldly 
for, as men say, he knoweth his craft well; yet, though I wot 
well he hath such a reputation, full oft he runneth into a fault. 
And wit ye how? full oft it so happeth that the pot breaketh 
in pieces, and farewell ! all is gone ! These metals be of so great 
a violence that our walls may not resist them unless they be 
wrought of lime and stone. They pierce through the walls and 
some of them sink into the earth (thus at times have we lost 
many a pound) , some are scattered all about the floor and some 
leap into the roof. I trow there is no doubt, though the fiend 
showeth him not in our sight, that he be with us, the very rogue 
himself ! for in hell, where he is lord and master, there is not more 
woe nor rancour nor ire. When our pot is broke, as I have said, 
every man chideth and holdeth him ill used. One saith, it was 
along of the way the fire was made; another saith nay, it was 
the blowing (then was I afeard, for that was mine office) ; 
"Straw!" quoth the third, "ye be stupid and foolish; it was not 
tempered as it ought to have been." "Nay, stint!" quoth the 
fourth, "and hearken to me; our fire was not made of beech- 
wood, that is the cause and no other I swear." I cannot 
tell what it was along of, but I wot well great strife was 
amongst us. 

"What! there is no more to do," quoth my lord, "I will beware 
hereafter of these perils; I am right sure that the pot was 
cracked. T3e that as it may, be not ye confounded; let the floor 
be swept at once, as usual ; pluck up your hearts and be glad and 

The muck was swept on an heap, and a canvas was cast 



on the floor and all this muck thrown into a sieve and sifted 
and picked over and over. 

"Pardee!" quoth one, "there is somewhat of our metal here 
yet, though we have not all. Though this thing have mischanced 
now, another time it may turn out well enough; we must needs 
put our goods in jeopardy. A merchant, par dee! trust me well, 
may not abide aye in his prosperity; sometimes his goods be 
drowned in the ocean, and sometimes cometh it safe to land." 

"Peace," quoth my lord, "the next time I will take care 
that our experiment shall come out quite in another fashion; 
and unless I do, let me have the blame, sirs; there was some 
defect in something, I know well." 

Another said that the fire was over-hot ; but, be it hot or cold, 
I dare assert that evermore we conclude amiss. We fail of 
what we desire, and in our madness we rave evermore. And 
when we be all together, every man seemeth a Solomon; but, 
as I have heard tell, "all thing which that shineth as the gold is 
not gold," nor is every apple good that is fair to the eye, how- 
soever men prate. Right so, lo! fareth it amongst us; he that 
seemeth the wisest, by Jesu! is most a fool, when it cometh to 
the proof; and he is a thief, that seemeth truest. That ye shall 
know, ere I depart from you, what time I have made an end of 
my tale. 

Explicit prima pars. 
Et sequitur pars secunda. 

There is a canon of religion amongst us, who would infect 
a whole town, though it were as great as Nineve, Rome, Alex- 
andria, Troy and three more such. No man, I ween, though 
he might live a thousand years, could write down his tricks and 



his infinite falseness. There is not his peer for falsehood in all 
this world; for he would so wind him in his strange terms, and 
speak his words in so sly a fashion, when he would commune 
with any wight, that, unless he were a fiend like himself, he 
would make him straightway to dote. Many a man ere this hath 
he beguiled, and yet shall if he live ; and yet men ride and walk 
many a mile to seek him and have his acquaintance, knowing 
naught of his false behaviour; and if ye list to hear me, I will 
tell it all here in your presence. 

But ye worshipful religious canons, deem not that I slander 
your house, although my tale be of a canon. Some rogue, pardee, 
is in every order, and God forbid that a whole company should 
rue the folly of one man. To slander you is no wise my purpose, 
but to correct what is amiss. This tale was told not only for 
you, but eke for others beside. Ye wot well how, among Christ's 
twelve apostles, there was no traitor but Judas ; then why should 
all the remnant have censure that were guiltless? For you I say 
the same; save only this, if ye will hearken my warning: if any 
Judas be in your convent, remove him betimes, if ye dread at all 
shame or loss. And be not displeased, I pray you, but hearken 
what I shall say of this canon. 

There was in London a priest, an annualer, that had dwelt 
there many a year, and was so pleasant and attentive unto the 
dame, where he was at board, that she would suffer him to pay 
nothing for food nor clothing, though he lived never so gaily; 
and spending-silver eke had he enough. Thereof no matter; 
I will proceed now and tell forth my tale of the canon, that 
brought confusion upon this priest. 

This false canon came on a day unto this priest's chamber, 
beseeching him to lend him a certain sum of .gold, and he would 



pay it to him again. "Lend me a mark but three days," quoth 
he, "and I will pay thee on the day. And if so be thou find me 
false, another day have me hanged by the neck!" 

This priest gave him a mark right soon, and this canon thanked 
him many times, and took his leave and went forth his way, and 
on the third day brought his money and gave his gold again 
to the priest, whereof this priest was wondrous glad. 

"Certes," quoth he, "it troubleth me not at all to lend a man 
a noble, or two, or whatsoever sum be in my possession, when 
he is so true of principle that he will in no wise break his 
word ; to such a man I can never say nay." 

"What! should I be untrue?" quoth this canon. "Nay, that 
were a new thing to befall. Truth is a thing that I will hold 
evermore unto that day in which I shall creep into my grave; 
God forbid else! Believe this as sure as your creed. I thank 
God, and happy am I to say it, that there was never man yet 
ill pleased for gold or silver that he lent me, nor ever have I 
thought falsehood in my heart. And now, sir, sith ye have been 
so kind to me, and shown me so great gentilesse, I will some- 
what to requite your courtesy show you of my secrets, and if ye 
list to learn, I will teach you fully the manner how I can work in 
philosophy. Take good heed, and ye shall see well with your 
own eyes that I will do a master-stroke, ere I depart." 

"Yea!" quoth the priest, "yea, sir! will ye so? Marie! I 
pray you heartily." "Truly, sir, at your commandment," quoth 
the canon, "and else God forbid!" 

Lo ! how this thief could offer his service ! Full sooth is it that 
such proffered service stinketh, as these old wise folk be witness ; 
and that full soon will I verify by this canon, root of all deceit, 
that evermore hath delight and gladness in devising how he may 



bring Christ's people to mischief, such fiendly thoughts are 
imprinted on his heart. God keep us from his dissimulation! 

This priest wist not with whom he dealt, nor was ware of 
the harm coming unto him. O simple priest! Simple innocent! 
Anon shalt thou be blinded by thy covetousness. O graceless 
one! full blind is thy thought, little art thou ware of the deceit 
which this fox hath contrived for thee! Thou mayst not escape 
his wily tricks. Wherefore to pass to the end, that bringeth 
to thy confusion, unhappy man, I will hie me anon to tell thy 
folly and the falseness eke of that other wretch, as far forth 
as my skill may allow. 

This canon, perchance ye think, was my lord? Sir host, in 
faith, by the heaven's queen, it was not he, but another canon, that 
knoweth more subtlety an hundred fold. He hath many a time 
betrayed folk; it dulleth me to tell of his falsehood. Whenever 
I speak of it, my cheeks wax red for shame; at least they begin 
to glow, for of redness I wot right well I have none in my 
visage; for diverse fumes of metals, which ye have heard me 
recite, have consumed and wasted my ruddy hue. Now hearken 
this canon's cursedness! 

"Sir," quoth he to the priest, "let your man go for quick- 
silver, that we may have it anon; and let him bring two or three 
ounces; and so soon as he cometh, ye shall see a wondrous thing, 
which ye saw never ere this." "Sir," quoth the priest, "it shall 
be done." He bade the servant fetch him that thing, and he 
was already at his call, and went forth and anon came again 
with the quicksilver, and gave the three ounces to the canon, 
who laid them down well and fair, and bade the servant bring 
coals that he might go anon to his work. The coals were straight- 
way fetched and this canon took out of his bosom a crucible 



and showed it to the priest. "Take this instrument which thou 
seest," quoth he, "in thy hand, and thyself put therein an ounce 
of this quicksilver, and begin here, in the name of Christ, to 
wax a philosopher. There be few to whom I would offer to 
show thus much of my science. For ye shall see here, by experi- 
ment, that anon I will mortify this quicksilver right in your 
sight, and make it as good silver and pure as there is in your 
purse, or mine, or elsewhere, and make it malleable; else hold 
me false and unfit f orevermore to be seen amongst folk. I have 
here a powder, that cost me dear, which shall make good all that 
I say; for it is the cause of all my cunning which I shall show 
you. Send your man forth, and let him be without there and shut 
the door, whilst we be about our privy working, that no man 
may behold us whilst we work in this philosophy." All was 
fulfilled in deed as he bade; straightway the servant went out, 
and his master shut the door, and speedily they went to their 

Anon this priest, as the cursed canon bade, set this thing 
upon the fire, and blew the fire and busied him full intently ; and 
this canon cast a powder into the crucible, I wot not whereof 
it was made, either of chalk, or of glass, or of somewhat else 
not worth a fly, to dupe the priest withal; and bade him to pile 
the coals up high above the crucible; "for in token that I love 
thee," quoth the canon, "thine own two hands shall perform all 
things that shall be done here." "Grammercy," quoth the priest, 
full blithe, and piled the coals as the canon bade. And while 
he was busy, this fiendly rogue, this false canon the foul fiend 
fetch him! took from his bosom a beechen coal, in which full 
subtly was made an hollow and therein was put an ounce of silver 
filings, and the hole was stopped with wax, to keep in the filings. 



And understand that this false gin was not made there, but was 
made before. And I shall tell hereafter of other things which 
he brought with him; ere he came thither, he planned to deceive 
the priest, and so he did, ere they parted; he could not leave off 
till he had flayed him. It wearieth me when I speak of him; 
I would fain avenge me on his falsehood, if I wist how; but 
he goeth hither and thither; he is so fickle he abideth nowhere. 

But now, sirs, take heed, for God's love! He took this coal 
of which I spake, and bare it privily in his hand; and whilst 
the priest was piling the coals busily, as I told you before, this 
canon said: "Friend, ye do amiss; this is not piled as it ought 
to be ; but I shall soon amend it. Let me meddle therewith now 
for a time, for by Saint Gyle! I have pity of you, ye be hot, I 
see right well how ye sweat. Have this cloth here, and wipe 
your brow." And while the priest wiped his face, this canon 
a curse on him! took his coal, and laid it above the middle of 
the crucible, and blew well afterward, till the coals gan burn 

"Now give us drink," quoth he then. "Straightway I under- 
take all shall be well. Sit we down and let us be merry." And 
when the canon's beechen coal was burned, anon all the filings 
fell out of the hollow down into the crucible, as by reason it needs 
must do, sith it was placed so even above; but alas! thereof wist 
the priest nothing. He deemed all the coals were alike good, 
for he comprehended naught of the sleight. And when this 
alchemist saw his time, "Rise up, sir priest," quoth he, "stand by 
me ; and because I wot well ye have no mould, go walk forth and 
bring a chalk-stone; for if I may have luck, I will shape one as 
a mould ; and bring with you eke a bowl, or a pan, full of water, 
and then ye shall see well how our business shall thrive and suc- 



ceed. And yet, that ye may have no misbelief or wrong conceit 
of me in your absence, I will not be out of your sight, but go with 
you, and come back with you." To speak briefly, they opened and 
shut the chamber-door, and went their way, and carried the key 
forth with them, and came again without tarrying. Why should 
I dwell on it all the day long? He took the chalk and wrought 
it in the shape of a mould, as I shall describe unto you. I say 
he took out of his own sleeve (evil be his end!) a thin plate of 
silver, which was but an ounce in weight; and take heed of his 
cursed trick now! He shaped his mould, in length and breadth, 
like this plate, so slyly that the priest saw it not; and again he 
gan hide it in his sleeve; and from the fire he took up his metal, 
and with merry cheer poured it into the mould; and when he 
list, he cast it into the water-vessel and straightway bade the 
priest, "Look what is there, put thy hand in and feel; thou shalt 
find silver there as I hope." What, devil of hell! should it be 
else? Silver shavings be silver, pardee! This priest put in his 
hand and took up a thin plate of fine silver, and glad in every 
vein was he when he saw that it was so. "God's blessing, and 
eke his mother's, and all the saints, may ye have, sir canon," 
said he, "if ye will vouchsafe to teach me this noble craft and 
subtlety, and I their malison, unless I will be yours, in all things 
that ever I may." 

Quoth the canon: "I will try yet a second time, that ye may 
observe and be expert in this, and another time at your need 
essay this process and this crafty art in mine absence. Let us 
take another ounce of quicksilver, without more words, and do 
therewith as ye have done erst with that other, which now is 

This priest busieth him in all he may to do as this cursed 



canon commanded him, and blew the coals hard for to come at 
his desire. And in the meantime the canon was all ready again 
to beguile the priest, and for a ruse he bore in his hand an 
hollow stick (take heed and beware!), in the end of which was 
put an even ounce of silver filings (as before was put in the 
coal) , and the hollow stopped well with wax, to keep in his filings 
every whit. And while the priest was busy, this canon with his 
stick came up anon, and cast in his powder, as he did before 
(the devil flay him out of his skin, I pray to God, for his false- 
hood; for he was false ever in thought and deed) ; and with this 
stick that was provided with that false contrivance he stirred the 
coals above the crucible, till the wax melted against the fire, as 
every man but a fool wot well it needs must do, and all that was 
in the stick ran out and slipped straightway into the crucible. 
Now, good sirs, what would ye better than well? When this 
priest was beguiled again thus, supposing naught but truth, he 
was so glad that I can express in no manner his mirth and his 
joy; and thereupon he proffered to the canon both his body and 
his goods. "Yea," quoth the canon, "though I be poor, thou 
shalt find me skillful; I warn thee there is yet more to come. 
Is there any copper here in your house?" "Yea, sir," quoth 
the priest, "I trow well there be." "Else go buy us some 
and that straightway. Go forth thy way now, good sir, and 
hie thee." 

He went his way and came with the copper, and the canon 
took it in his hands, and weighed out of that copper but an 
ounce. My tongue, as minister of my wit, is all too simple to 
express the doubleness of this canon, root of all treachery. He 
seemed friendly to them that knew him not, but he was fiendly 
both in heart and in mind. It wearieth me to tell of his falseness, 



yet natheless will I tell of it, to the intent that men may beware 
thereby, and truly for no other cause. 

He put his ounce of copper in the crucible and straightway 
set it on the fire, and cast powder in, and made the priest to blow 
and in his working to stoop, as he did before, and all was but 
a knavish trick; as he list, he made the priest his ape. And 
afterward he cast it into the mould, and put it at last in the pan 
of water; and he put in his own hand. And in his sleeve (as ye 
heard me tell before) he had a thin plate of silver. The cursed 
hind, slyly he took it out the priest knowing naught of his false 
cunning and in the pan's bottom he left it, and fumbled to and 
fro in the water, and took up wondrous privily the copper plate 
and hid it; and caught him by the breast, and spake to him and 
said thus in his sporting, "Stoop adown, by the mass, ye be to 
blame; help me now as I did you a while ago. Put in your 
hand and look what is there." The priest took up anon his plate 
of silver, and then said the canon, "Let us go with these three 
plates which we have wrought to some goldsmith, and know if 
they be worth somewhat; for I would not by my faith, for mine 
hood, that they were other than pure and fine silver, and that 
shall straightway be proved." 

Unto the goldsmith they went with these three plates and put 
them to the test with fire and hammer; no man might say but they 
were as they ought to be. 

Who was happier than this besotted priest? Never night- 
ingale joyed better to sing in the season of May, never was bird 
gladder of the morn, nor ever had lady more delight to carol or 
to speak of love and womanhood, nor knight to do an hardy 
deed in arms to stand in the grace of his lady dear, than had 
this priest to gain knowledge of this sorry craft; and thus he 



spake to the canon and said, "For love of God that died for 
us all, and as I may deserve this favour of you, what should this 
receipt cost? tell nowl" "By our lady," quoth this canon, "I 
warn you well it is dear; for save me and a friar, there can no 
man make it in England." "No matter," quoth he, "now, sir, 
for God's sake, what shall I pay? tell me, I prithee." "In sooth," 
quoth he, "it is full dear. In one word, sir, if ye list to have it, 
ye shall pay forty pound, so God help me! And were it not 
for the friendship ye have shown me ere this, ye should pay 
more, in faith." 

This priest fetched anon the sum of forty pound in nobles, 
and handed them all to this canon for that receipt; yet all its 
working was but fraud and falsehood. 

"Sir priest," he said, "I reck not for renown in my craft, for 
I would it were kept close; as ye love me, keep it secret; for 
if men knew all my subtle cunning, they would be so envious of 
me, by the mass, because of my philosophy, that I should die for 
it ; there were none other end." "God forbid !" quoth the priest, 
"what say ye? I were mad but I would liefer spend all the goods 
which I have, than that ye should fall into such misfortune." 
"Have here right good speed, sir, for your good will," quoth the 
canon, "grammercy and farewell!" He went his way and never 
the priest saw him after that hour; and when at such time as he 
would, the priest came to make essay of this receipt, farewell, 
then! It would not work. Lo! thus was he duped and beguiled! 
Thus maketh this canon his first step to bring folk to their 

Consider, sirs, how in every estate of life there is such conflict 
betwixt men and gold that there is scarce any gold left. This 
multiplying blindeth so many that in good faith I trow that it 



is the greatest cause of such scarceness. Philosophers speak so 
mistily in this craft that men cannot come at their meaning by 
any wit that men have now. They may well chatter as these 
jays do, and busily devise strange terms and take delight therein, 
but they shall never attain to their purpose. If a man have 
aught, he may lightly learn to multiply and bring his goods 
to nothing. Lo ! in this lusty game is such lucre that it will turn 
a man's mirth unto bitterness, and empty eke great and heavy 
purses, and make folk to earn maledictions of them that have 
lent their goods thereto. Fie! for shame! they that have been 
burned, alas! cannot they flee the fire's heat? Ye that practise 
it, I warn you leave it, lest ye lose all; for better is late than 
never. Never to thrive were too long a date. Though ye prowl 
for aye, ye shall never discover it. Ye be as bold as Bayard, the 
blind, that blundereth forth and thinketh no peril; he is ever as 
bold to run against a stone as to walk aside in the road. So 
fare ye that multiply, I say. If your eyes cannot see aright, 
look that your mind lack not its vision. For though ye look never 
so far abroad and stare, ye shall not win a mite on that business, 
but waste all ye can clutch and touch. Take the fire away, lest 
it burn too hard. Meddle no more, I mean, with that art, for if 
ye do, your thrift is gone utterly. And now will I tell you what 
philosophers say of this matter. 

Lo! .Arnold of the New Town saith thus, as his Rosarie 
maketh mention: "No man can mortify Mercury, unless it be 
with his brother's knowledge. He that first said this thing 
was Hermes, father of philosophers ; he saith how without doubt 
the dragon dieth not, unless he be slain by his brother; that is 
to say by the dragon he understood Mercury and none else; 
and brimstone by the brother; that were both drawn out of sol 



and luna. And therefore," he said, "give heed to my saying: 
let no man busy him to seek after this art, unless he can under- 
stand the intent and speech of philosophers; for if he do, he is 
an ignorant man. For this science and this cunning, pardee, 
is of the secret of secrets." 

Also there was a disciple of Plato, that on a time asked of 
his master, as his book Senior will bear witness, "Tell me the 
name of the secret stone." And Plato answered unto him, "Take 
the stone that men call Titanos." "Which is that?" quoth he. 
"The same is magnesia," said Plato. "Yea, sir; is it so? This is 
ignotum per ignotius. Good sir, what is magnesia, I pray you?" 
"It is a water," quoth Plato, "that is made of four elements." 
"Tell me, good sir," quoth he then, "the source of that water, 
if it please you." "Nay, nay," quoth Plato, "that certainly I 
will not. For all philosophers have sworn that they shall dis- 
cover it unto none, nor write it in any book, in any manner ; for it 
is so dear unto Christ that he will not that it be discovered, save 
where it pleaseth his deity to inspire man, and eke he f orbiddeth 
it unto whom it pleaseth him; lo! this is all." 

I conclude then thus: Sith God of heaven willeth not that 
the philosophers declare how a man shall come unto this stone, 
I counsel, as for the best, to let it go. For whoso maketh God 
his adversary, as for to work anything in defiance of his will, 
shall never prosper, though he multiply all his life. And here 
an end; for my story is done. God send every true man help 
out of his trouble. Amen. 

Here is ended the Canon's Yeoman s Tale. 



The Prologue. 


5 Austin: i.e. Saint Augustine. 

5 Limit er: A friar who was assigned certain limits within which to 

6 In principio: The first words in Latin of the text, "In the begin- 
ning was the Word." 

6 Love-days: Days on which the clergy undertook to settle disputes. 
The fact that this flattering friar excelled on such occasions suggests that 
the institution was not very equitable. 

7 Middleburgh and Orwell: Between about 1384 and 1388 these ports, 
the one in Holland and the other in Suffolk, were the termini of the wool 
trade. Contemporary documents show that it was often in danger from 
national enemies and pirates (like the Shipman in the Prologue). 

7 Philosopher: Chaucer puns on the appropriation to themselves of 
the word philosopher by the alchemists, who might be supposed to be well 
provided with gold, since they claimed the ability to make it. (Cf. "Phi- 
losopher's stone.") 

7 Paul's church-porch: A usual gathering-place for lawyers. 

8 Saint Julian: Patron saint of hospitality, invoked by travellers in 
need of lodging. 

9 Sweet cyperus: Parish suppers were sometimes held on the evens 
before festivals. 

9 By Water: That is, the Shipman made his captives "walk the 
plank" ; threw them overboard. 

10 Images: It was believed by necromancers and others that acts per- 
formed upon the waxen image of a man would produce upon the man 
himself effects similar to those upon the image, especially if the astrological 
conditions were favourable. 




10 Esculapws, etc.: Real and supposed writers on medicine, some 
ancient, some mediaeval, Greek, Arab, Italian, French. 

10 A cordial: Drinkable gold (aurum potabile) was sought after by 
the alchemists as a sovereign remedy ; hence Chaucer's sarcasm. 

12 Tabard: A sleeveless frock. 

13 Thumb of gold: The experienced miller succeeds by testing the 
quality of the meal. But there seems to have been a proverb, "An honest 
miller has a golden thumb." Hence the yet. 

14 Summoner: An official who cited sinners before the archdeacon's 
court, which took especial cognizance of matters relating to sexual morality. 
The summoners were very corrupt and much hated. 

15 Significavit nobis: The first words of the writ which inflicted 
temporal punishment on a man condemned by the church; of that at least 
the summoner was sure. Chaucer's sceptical irony here is due probably to 
the influence of Wyclif . 

15 Pardoner: A seller of indulgences. 

15 Vernicle: The face of Christ is said to have been miraculously 
pictured on the napkin of Saint Veronica. This relic is reputed to be 
preserved in Rome, and a copy of it, often worn ostentatiously, was an 
indication that the wearer had been on pilgrimage thither. 

Knight's Tale. 

44 Rubeus, Puella: Figures used in the species of divination known 
as geomancy. 

45 Lucina: The name of Diana as invoked at child-birth. 

52 Against his nature: The planet Saturn, with which in the Middle 
Ages the deity was constantly identified, was supposed to cause discord and 

55 Prime of day: About nine o'clock in the morning. 

Prioress' Prologue. 

67 The opening words of this Prologue are spoken directly after the 
Shipman's Tale, which is not included in this volume. 



PAGE Prologue of the Nun's Priest's Tale. 

74 The Knight speaks here to the Monk, who has just finished his 

Nun's Priest's Tale. 

77 "My lief is faren in londe": i.e. "My love is gone away"; pre- 
sumably a song popular at the time. 

85 Undern: 9 A.M. 

87 Dan Burnel the Ass: The story is from a poem by Nigellus Wire- 
ker, written in the time of Richard I. 

90 My lord archbishop: The Archbishop of Canterbury, William 

Epilogue of Nun's Priest's Tale. 

91 Brasil: A wood of bright-red colour, used for dyeing. 

Wife of Bath's Prologue. 

116 Bigamy: The wife refers, of course, to consecutive, not to 
simultaneous, marriages. 

120 Dunmowe: A prize of a piece of bacon was given at this village 
to wedded couples who had lived together a year without quarrelling. 

120 Chough: The reference is to a well-known mediaeval story of a 
man who set an educated crow (or chough) to watch his wife's conduct. 
When the wife learned that the crow was aware of her trespass, she plotted 
successfully and most ingeniously with her maid to destroy the crow's credit 
with her husband. 

128 Ascendent: The zodiacal sign just ascending above the horizon 
at the time of a person's birth. It was considered particularly influential 
on his later life. 

130 Who painted the lion? The wife refers here to the fable of the 
Lion and the Man. The latter tried to prove the superiority of his race to 
the lion's by referring to pictures in which men are killing lions ; to which 
the lion replied that things would be different if lions could draw. 

130 Exaltation: The exaltation of a planet is the sign in which it 
is most powerful. 




131 Lyma and Lucy: The classical names of these women are Livia 
and Lucilia. 

Clerk's Tale. 

151 Where is your father? Out of respect the marquis here addresses 
Grisildis in the plural. 

171 Chichevache: According to a piece of mediaeval folk-lore, two 
cows, Bicorne and Chichevache, the first very fat, the second very lean, lived 
respectively on patient husbands and patient wives. The physical condi- 
tion of each was caused by the ease or difficulty with which the diet was to 
be come by. 

Franklins Tale. 

193 Tables: This game, called in Latin tdbularum ludus, is the 
modern backgammon. 

201 Nowel: i.e. the birthday, or Christmas-day, Old French noel, 
from Latin natalem. "To cry Noel" was to sing a Christmas carol, as was 
usual on Christmas eve. 

201 Toletan tables: The astronomical tables, composed by order of 
Alphonso X., King of Castile, about the middle of the thirteenth century, 
were called sometimes Tabulae Toletanae, from their being adapted to the 
city of Toledo. 

201 Roots: For an explanation of all these technical terms of 
mediaeval astronomy, see Skeat's Cant. Tales, Vol. V., p. 394. 

202 Fixed Aries: The true equinoxial point. 

Canon's Yeoman s Prologue. 

210 Canon: A member of a religious order less strict than the orders 
of monks and friars. 

212 Multiply: To make gold and silver by the art of alchemy. 

Canons Yeoman s Tale. 

220 Annualer: A priest who lived by singing anniversary masses for 
the dead. 

223 Mortify: i.e. to make the quick (or, living) silver dead. 




229 Bayard: A common name for a horse. 

229 Arnold of the New Town: Arnoldus de Villa Nova was a French 
alchemist of the thirteenth century. Chaucer quotes here with mockery a 
specimen of his mystical jargon. Hermes Trismegistus was believed to be 
the originator of alchemy ; gold and silver were called respectively sol and 

230 Ignotum per ignotius: i.e. to explain an unknown thing by one 
still more unknown, which Chaucer contemptuously regards as the practice 
of the alchemists at large. It need hardly be said that the anecdote is from 
a mediaeval work, and has nothing to do with the historical Plato. 


PR 1870 .Al M3 1914 


Chaucer, Geoffrey, d. 

The Canterbury tales 

Geoffrey Chaucer / 
AJW-1565 (ab)